HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Tiny crabs in my clams - WTF?? [moved from Home Cooking]

I was at dinner last night at a somewhat respectable California-Cuisine-type restaurant, and my fish dish was accompanied by 4 steamed clams - all of which had at least 1-2 tiny dead crabs embedded in the flesh.

I grew up clamming in the Northwest, and I never saw anything like this. I read that this sometimes happens, but is is acceptable to serve them like this? Also, it's unclear if the clam ate the crab, or if the crab was eating the clam. Either way, the waiter took them away with no other explanaton except "the chef says it's ok, but I will remove them." No offer of any other side dish was made.
How often does this happen, and is a "crabby" clam a sign of quality--or poor quality control?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. They were probably pea crabs. They are technically parasites because they slow the growth of the host, but they are largely considered to do no harm to humans. Do a quick google for more info.


    2 Replies
    1. re: MaspethMaven

      However, these were not spherical shaped, nor did they have the tail appearance described in Wikipedia. They looked like tiny versions of sand crabs you see whenever you turn rocks over around here at low tide. I believe I ate one before seeing it, and while they didn't detract too terribly from the taste, I think there was sand in the clam that was stuck in the crab itself. That wasn't too pleasant.

      Regardless, the chef claimed it was the clam that ate the crab, which didn't seem right to me - also didn't reassure me that he knew what he was talking about when he said it was OK to eat. Besides, should I pay $30 for an entree that's just "OK to eat"?

      1. re: foodiegrl

        Pinnotherid crabs would have been my first assumption as well, but if that's not what they looked like . . .
        Could they have been amphipods (picture here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphipods) or isopods (look something like pill bugs)? That's usually what people are referring to when they talk about sand crabs or sand fleas (they're neither crabs nor fleas). Both groups have commensal species, though I'm not sure about bivalves acting as hosts. No matter what, the chef was incorrect that the clam was eating the "crab" - clams don't do that. Regardless, I don't think it indicates that anything was wrong with the clams.

    2. As a life long oyster fan, (I used to gather my own) I have seen plenty of tiny crabs. When we roast the oysters, the crabs cook too and turn a beautiful pink, and are very sweet.
      I don't clam but they are probably the same crabs.

      1. A very long time ago in a small village on the northern coast of France, (Gee, I shoulda started with "once upon a time") a friend took me to a famed local bistro where we were served delicious clams. Each one contained a tiny crab. I thought I was seeing things and whispered about it to my friend. He just laughed and said that they were supposed to be in there.

        I have never heard of those tiny crabs again until today - and in my home state, too.

        1. I once had mussels and one of them had a small crab it it. It grossed me out for a while.

          But I know that in the deep blue ocean, things eat things all the time. Sometimes the big fishies have the little fishies in their bellies.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Sethboy

            found a little crab in the bottom of our pot while having some mussels in france. to be honest... thought it was the cutest thing ever and had no idea where it was coming from since all the shells were open and everything was doused with broth.

            it was TINY. a ovalesque body with little legs sticking out on each side and little black eyes. very smooth exterior and no other details really but a beautiful orange and white translucency. we didn't eat it but we weren't afraid of the mussels either.

            1. re: pinstripeprincess

              How big are these little crabs anyhow? I don't think anyone offered a measurement - what fraction of an inch each way?

              1. re: niki rothman

                assuming that the fork is your regular size... here's my little crab in all it's glory.


                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  Something about that thing just isn't right :-) Cute as it may seem...I would not eat it!

                  1. re: Michele4466

                    well.. i didn't and wouldn't eat it.

                    it's sort of like some cartoon version of a crab. besides, bunnies are cute but i'll eat them.

                    anyhow, not sure if this is the same type as everyone else has seen.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      It is Sooooooo CUTE! BUT - it is still a parasite.

                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                        That's almost exactly what I saw - except they were orange and more opaque. Regardless, I don't think they should have been served in a $30 entree - at least not without listing them as an added "feature" to the menu :)

                2. (And yes I know that crabs and clams are not "fishies" but it sounded funnier that way).

                  1. I've found tiny pale crabs in my mussels many times. I don't eat them; in fact, I don't eat the mussel that contained them, either. I always assumed they were parasites, which is kinda gross, don't you think? Once it happened in my own home when I made mussels (bought from Bristol Farms.) It certainly did nothing towards my campaign to get my daughters to eat mussels.

                    1. Oh, and they were definitely crabs, not amphipods. They looked like tiny sand crabs, only a bit skinnier and shorter from front to back, quite wide from side to side. A sort of foreshortened appearance.

                      1. I grew up clamming and crabbing in the Great South Bay off LI and never saw anything like that. I have to assume the clams were sick, moribund, or dead, because the cabs MIGHT be eating the clams because they are scavengers but the clams would NOT be eating the crabs because they lack the whole range of needed equipment for the task. Clams only eat by filtering the water for tiny particles of food floating in the water.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: niki rothman

                          The clams are not necessarily sick - as was mentioned back at the beginning of the thread, Pinnotherid crabs live exclusively in the mantle cavity of bivalves without harming the host. My first boss (lotta years ago) was one of the world experts on Pinnotherids. Also - a minor point - there are many species of clams that aren't filter feeders but are what's called non-selective deposit feeders, rummaging around in the mud with their siphons and vacuuming up food. But you're correct in that it's not possible for clams to be eating the crabs.

                          1. re: FlyFish

                            Not necessarily sick - OK, but definitely not sick - no, because if the clams were moribund, probably crabs would be the first scavengers to notice and take advantage of the situation - as they inhabit the same territory, the clams can't escape, and probably a serious symptom of illness would be slightly opening their shell so a little scavenger like a crab could get at them.

                        2. When I lived in Belgium as a kid, we often had neighborhood parties that included massive quantities of steamed mussels. While it was indeed an occasional event, someone would always find a mussel or two with a crab in it. As kids, we were completely grossed out, but the adults had no problem with it -- they would simply flick out the crab, then eat the mussel.

                          A possible theory could be that the two animals live symbiotically; perhaps the bivalve shell is a shelter for the crab, who then possibly offers some service such as cleaning or protecting the bivalve itself. Just a thought.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: BucksFoodie

                            The first part is unquestionably true. I don't think anyone really knows if the mussel gets anything out of the deal or not.