E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Metacarcinus magister (Dana, 1852)
Commercial Crab; Dungeness Crab; Pacific Crab
Family: Cancridae

Species account author: Josephine Hart.
Extracted from Crabs and their relatives of British Columbia.
Photo of species

© Aaron Baldwin  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #4486)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Metacarcinus magister in British Columbia
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The Dungeness Crab, also known as the common edible crab, is found in North America along the west coast, from Tanaga Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, to Magdalena Bay, Mexico. It is found throughout BC in sandy (sometimes mud or gravel) bottoms in intertidal areas to depths of 230 m. It is frequently associated with or proximal to eel-grass beds. This is a distinctive and common species of crab. It has a red-brown to purple, uneven, carapace that is up to 23 cm wide, up to 1.5 times wider than long. The front half has a spine-tipped edge. The claws (chelipeds) are spiny, purplish brown, with white 'hands' with purple. An additional technical description of the species is provided by the Marine Species Identification Portal. This species feeds on bivalves, crustaceans, marine worms and fish (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2010).

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2010) describes this species as the most important species of crab harvested in British Columbia, and provide a brief summary of the fishery: "The inception of the commercial fishery occurred before the turn of the century with first recorded landings in 1885. The sport fishery has an equally long history and aboriginal harvests of Dungeness crab precede the discovery of North America by Europeans."

The Dungeness Crab is named after Dungeness, Washington.

Species Information

Surface of carapace uneven, finely granular and slightly convex, with sharp teeth on antero-lateral margin, no teeth on postero-lateral margin. Pterygostomian area covered with a dense pubescence which apparently serves to prevent sand from covering the gills when the crab has buried itself for protection from predators. Chelipeds spiny and palm with dorsal margin toothed as is the finger; fingers light coloured. Walking legs broad and flat, last pair with propodus and dactyl particularly so.


Carapace: male 160 x 230 mm, female 120 x 170 mm.


Carapace brownish with pink or tan granules on ridges and ivory in grooved depressions, forming a symmetrical pattern; marginal granules ivory. Chelipeds with violet, dark brown, white and ivory granules on exposed areas and white on unexposed areas; fingers and cutting surfaces white. Walking legs ivory with pale brown, violet and tan streaks. Abdomen ivory. Eyestalk white with violet base; cornea black.


Sand bottoms in which the crab may bury itself leaving only eyes, antennules and antennae visible. Water for respiration is drawn into the gill cavity and the pubescence prevents the sand from entering the branchial cavity. These crabs move very quickly, running on the tips of the walking legs and almost swimming as a result of the vibrations of the last pair of legs. They may also be found in muddy areas, but sand and eelgrass seem to be the preferred habitat.



Tanaga Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, to Magdalena Bay, Mexico; intertidal to 179 m.
Distribution In British Columbia

Widespread in suitable areas.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Cancer magister Dana, 1852

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-05-29 8:53:14 AM]
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