Like many species of crustaceans, the Atlantic ghost crab has a specially evolved claim to fame that helps keep its eyes free and clear of sand: windshield wiper-like appendages.
Yes, a crab wiping sand from its eyes is as adorable as it sounds. Just take this video showing a crab on a person’s thigh that went viral on Reddit May 30, 2022, with more than 24,600 likes.
But the post above is not the first time the video of a crab wiping its eyes has made an online appearance. That happened nearly three months earlier when it was shared from Imgur to Reddit and was met with over 108,000 likes. The clip has also made appearances on TikTok and Twitter.
Needless to say, the little eye-wiping crustacean is an internet fan favorite.
The crab in the video appears to be an Atlantic ghost crab, scientific name Ocypode quadrata, that the citizen scientist platform iNaturalist describes as once having been known as an “occult, secretive alien from the ancient depths of the sea.” Contrary to its description, the Atlantic ghost crab is common along the eastern coast of the U.S., extending from Rhode Island south to Brazil.
With a shell measuring up to 3 inches wide and an average lifespan of about three years, the yellow-hued crustaceans spend their lives digging burrows on the sand as a means to seek shelter from the summer sun and “hibernate” during the winter, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
As the Twitter user Science Girl pointed out, many crabs have what are known as “stalked compound eyes,” a specially evolved eye type that many species of crustaceans exhibit. Crab eyes are on stalks and can both swivel around and be withdrawn into their sockets, according to the natural history museum, Crab Museum. To protect their eyes and “large club-shaped eyestalks,” crabs like the Atlantic ghost crab will use their mouth parts, or maxillipeds, to wipe sand off of their eyes, Alaska-based marine biologist Molly Zaleski told Snopes.
Maxillipeds are like the crustacean version of human hands. These small appendages hold food for crabs, lobsters, shrimps, and prawns and place tasty morsels in their mouths. They also hold windshield wiper-like abilities to clear sand and other debrief from the eyes of Atlantic ghost crabs — a particularly nifty trick given that these crabs regularly burrow several feet deep in the sand.
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