Editors Notes: Land Crabs

I took a small road trip this week up to Sayulita solely for the purpose of photographing the land crabs. I took the time to clean and sort my lenses, double checked the memory card was in its place and predictably failed to ensure the battery was changed. So I have some cute iphone photos…

Visitors to the beaches around Hierra Blanca and Sayulita during the rainy season that find themselves walking through the jungle are likely to be surprised to find the jungle floor literally teeming with thousands (sounds like millions) of purple-and-yellow and red land crabs. Crabs seem to be foraging everywhere in the leaf litter, wildly waving their claws and scurrying away at the slightest sign of danger. It’s pretty awesome. You are the star of your own National Geographic special.

2013-06-22 11.37.46There are two species of land crabs in the area. The red ones are Gecarcinus lateralis and the more prolific dark purple yellowish are Gecarcinus quadratus. The red ones usually grow larger, the purple and yellow ones more numerous. Commonly called Mexican Land Crab, Halloween Crab, Mouthless Crab, or the Harlequin Land Crab these little crustaceans only return to the ocean to reproduce and spend the rest of their days burrowed in the jungle, as much as 600 meters from shore. They have adapted to life on land so much so that they even drown in water and only take to the sea-shore for releasing their larvae. Once the eggs are laid the adult crabs return to the forest to molt, forage and hibernate.

It’s a breathtaking sight, though eerie and off-putting for many, I’m sure. They make a clicking noise that could come straight from a horror movie soundtrack but their funny faces, frantic claw waving, and bright colours should be enough to ensure anyone that these guys are relatively harmless. (Unless they overrun your house or fields, in which case they can be a real nuisance.) Having been raised on a steady diet of nature, I’m not one run at the sight of insects, crustaceans or bears and I find these fellas very charming.

Take a day and explore. There are some excellent beaches around Sayulita that are near deserted and perfect for getting close to the land crabs. Bring your camera, water and decent jungle shoes. When you’ve got a portfolio of photos perfect for NG, head into Sayulita for some great fish tacos at Miguel’s Taco Stand on Calle Delphines. They’re my go to when I’m in town. Give me a call, maybe I’ll join you.


Madeline Milne on EmailMadeline Milne on Instagram
Living in Mexico full time since 2011, Madeline is a graphic designer, writer, iPhone photographer and road tripper.


  1. The land crabs found in San Francisco, I think, are those found on certain persons. The water crabs are found on the beaches as Sand , Fiddler and Hermit crabs, and off he ocean beaches and in San Francisco Bay are the large Dungeness crabs that take your fishing bait off your hooks before the Striped Bass can find it, and in the San Francisco Bay are also Rock and Green crabs.

    That said, I found the bay water, beach and crab picture – on the cover of the Vallarta Tribune – quite interesting, and brought back memories of my youth fishing on the San Francisco Ocean Beaches for 30-40 pound strippers in the heavy serf, all the while avoiding the pesty sand crabs and sand fleas around my bare feet.

    I would agree with Adrian’s comment on your writing. It was interesting and informative about the Land crabs.

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