Sally Lightfoot Crab, Grapsus grapsus: Several crabs are commonly referred to as "Sally Lightfoots." The "Sally Lightfoot Crabs" pictured herein are abundant in the Los Cabos area of Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Most reports of "Sally Lightfoot Crabs" along all the coasts of Baja California Sur probably refer to Grapsus grapsus, (which is translated from Greek as Crab Crab) and is most abundant and most photographed in its native habitat, the Galapagos Islands. These crabs found at Baja California Sur at Los Cabos actually more resemble another crab called "Sally Lightfoot," the Nimble Spray Crab, Percnon gibbesi, which is found predominantly in the Caribbean and other tropic waters around the world.
Another crab called "Sally Lightfoot Crab" is the close relative of the Nimble Spray Crab, the Flat Rock Crab, Percnon plasissimum, which only reaches a size of one inch in diameter.
The Sally Lightfoot Crabs comes in multiple colors, from solid red, to deep red and pale green, to almost black. Their large shells or carapace range in size from 1.5 to 4 inches. They have fingers that are spoon shaped and their claws can “bite like hell!” Sally Lightfoots are extremely agile and prefer the continual wave shock of the low splash zone of exposed outer coasts found on rugged, rocky points. They prefer a diet of algae but are opportunistic feeders if dead birds, fish or other sea life is readily available. In turn they are preyed on primarily by sea birds.
The Sally Lightfoot Crab ranges from Isla Cedros on the Pacific side of the Baja, south of Santa Rosalia on the Cortez side of the Baja California Penninsula and from Puerto Libertad south to Guatemala on the mainland coast; they are also present around all oceanic islands.
The Sally Lightfoot Crab is considered by locals as a premier whole, live or fresh cut bait for shore fishing around rocky structures on an early morning or late afternoon tide. They are normally pinned with a Size 1/0 or 2/0 hook and sent out with a traditional bottom rig. The younger locals, with agile dexterity, can catch these elusive creatures by walking the rocks armed with a long stick. Sally Lightfoots are virtually impossible to catch by one less agile and less skilled in the art. However, we have recently received two separate reports that they can be collected with ease during the dark of the night as they occasionally sleep on the rocks well above the water line and can be collected by hand. Note: we suggest that if you are interested in collecting these characters for use as a bait then you bring with you a pair of kitchen meat shears and immediately remove the claws upon collection.
The "Sally Lightfoot Crabs" found at Los Cabos vary in diameter from two to four inches, but again, it is virtually impossible to catch the larger ones. They inhabit all coastal rock formations and have a unique ability to hang on the rocks when bombarded by large crashing waves.
Sally Lightfoot Crabs feed on algae, dead fish, dead birds, and dead seals, and they have limited value other than as a fresh cut bait for which they are highly esteemed by local surf fishermen. Sally Lightfoot Crabs are decapod crustaceans with 10 limbs, short eye stalks, powerful claws, and short antennae, and a large shell or carapace covering their bodies. They are characterized by their omnipresence and their elusive tactics, which makes photography, collection, and accurate identification almost impossible.
The Sally Lightfoot Crab is the subject of much folklore, and was reported by the immortal Ray Cannon to be an “ornery, razor-packin', ink-spittin’ Devil spawn of the beach, satanic creature.” Said John Steinbeck of the Sally Lightfoot crab in The Log of the Sea of Cortez: “They seem to be able to run in all four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time they appear to read the mind of their hunter. Man reacts peculiarly but consistently in his relationship with Sally Lightfoot. His tendency eventually is to scream curses, to hurl himself at them, and to come up foaming with rage bruises all over his chest.”
Comment: We would like to thank Dr. Gregory C, Jensen, the University of Washington for his help identifying this crab. Greg has published an excellent book on crabs, Pacific Coast Crabs and Shrimps, Sea Challengers, 1995, which we refer you to for more information on these creatures. John Snow.