Invasion of the Red Crabs: El Niño Conditions Bring Hoards of Fiery Beasties to the Channel Islands

by Carolyn Sotka


Screen grab from video below of pelagic red crabs in the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary

This year’s El Niño is predicted to be of one the strongest in recent history, bringing with it torrid waters from the equator and drenching the west coast and southern parts of the U.S. with torrential rains.

The effects of this Godzilla El Nino are already being felt along the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in California, where thousands of pelagic red crabs (Pleuroncodes planipes) have the invaded the waters around the islands.

Normally found in Mexico, these diminutive crustaceans look like an odd hybrid between lobster, fiddler crab and crayfish. During El Niño years, surfers often see them popping out of the water in the waters off breaks like Trestles, Malibu and Salt Creek and even get occasionally pinched by the little beasties. Get ready for a wild, weather ride this fall and into spring of 2016 and check out this video of the pelagic red crabs, a favorite snack for sea turtles, off San Miguel Island.

Video shot by researcher Jeff Harris with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory.

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