Barnacles On Crab Legs

Americans have mastered the best methods to prepare and cook crab. This delectable dish can be found in many seafood restaurants throughout the U.S. Crab meat is noted for its sweet, delicate flavor and tender texture. But what if you were served this dish with barnacles on the crab’s legs?

Barnacles often attach themselves to a crab’s legs as a means of transport. When the crab feeds, they release tiny food particles on which the barnacles will feed. Barnacles will release their sperm along the journey for female barnacles to retrieve. Most barnacles found on crab legs do no harm.

Barnacles are often found on crab legs, but read on to find out why they attach themselves to crabs, what are barnacles, and can you eat crabs that have barnacles still attached to their legs?

Why Do Barnacles Attach To The Legs Of Crabs?

Barnacles look for firm surfaces found in seawater on which to live. These creatures cannot move around on their own, so they devised a good plan to solve this problem. These sea creatures will attach themselves to the legs of a crab and use the crab as a means of transport.

The crab will swim around in the sea in search of food. When the crab feeds, tiny particles from the food will float around in the water, which is what the barnacle will eat. The barnacle will also deposit sperm (sperm casting) as it travels around with the crab. The sperm is secreted into the ocean for the females to retrieve for fertilizing their eggs.

The barnacles feel safe when attached to the crab, as the crab will not be able to remove the barnacle from its legs. The only time a crab will get rid of the barnacle is when the crab is molting its shell.

What Are Barnacles That Are Found On Crab Legs?

Barnacles are tiny sea creatures that have a shell-like covering. They are crustaceans and are related to crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. In their larval stage, they look like tiny shrimp swimming in the ocean.

They look for suitable surfaces like rocks, the bottom of sea vessels, and other sea creatures to attach themselves to. They attach headfirst onto the surface of their host with a strong sticky, brown, glue-like substance. This natural glue is extremely strong, and it is very difficult to remove the barnacle once it is attached.

When the barnacle has found its host, like on a crab’s leg, it will grow into an adult and produce a strong outer shell. They use unique feathered tentacles (cirri) to grab the food particles floating in the water.  

Barnacles are filtering organisms that consume plankton and dissolved debris that is suspended in the ocean. They cleanse the water for other organisms. Barnacles have a lifespan of between 5 to 10 years.

Are Barnacles Harmful To Crabs?

Different types of barnacles will attach themselves to crabs. The majority of barnacles that attach themselves to the legs of crabs are only looking for a host as a means of transport. These barnacles do no harm; when the crab molts, it will shed the skin with the barnacles attached.

The barnacles are usually on older crabs that don’t frequently molt. Thus, the barnacles will stay attached to the crab until it dies. Although these barnacles do no harm, sometimes they imbed themselves too deeply into the legs of the crab. This can prevent the crab from molting, which could be detrimental to the crab and the barnacle.

So, we have established that most barnacles are potentially harmless, but there are parasitic barnacles that can do immense harm to a crab. These are known as rhizocephalan barnacles. These barnacles will burrow themselves into the crab’s body, extending root-like structures and taking over its entire body.

Parasitic barnacles will use chemicals to alter the crab’s behavior, causing it to nurture the barnacle’s eggs as if they were it’s own. The crab will not reproduce, and it will also not molt. Its sole purpose is to take care of the barnacle eggs. This fate can happen to male and female crabs.

Can You Eat Crab Legs With Barnacles Attached?

You could eat crab legs with barnacles attached. The barnacles grow on the outer shell of the legs and will not affect the meat inside the leg. Barnacles on crab legs usually mean that the crab is older and has been around long enough for the barnacles to become securely attached. Many fishermen believe that older crabs produce better meat.

You could eat the barnacles if you so wished! In some countries, like Spain, gooseneck barnacles are a delicacy, and the locals consider barnacles a tasty meal. If you are cooking the crab yourself, you can scrape away the part where the barnacle is attached to the legs. Or you could leave the barnacle attached when cooking, which will also be fine.

How To Remove Barnacles From Crab Legs Before Cooking

Preparing crab legs for cooking is an easy enough task. But when some barnacles are attached to the legs, removing them can take some effort. Here is how to do this.

  • Lay the crab legs in cold water mixed with a bit of vinegar.
  • Scrub the legs well with a medium brush to eliminate all impurities.
  • If the barnacle does not come off with the brushing, remove the barnacles with a sharp-edged knife or another scraping tool. You will need to remove one barnacle at a time.
  • Once the crab legs have been scrubbed clean and the barnacles removed, rinse them in clean cold water.
  • The crab legs are now ready for cooking.
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Barnacles cannot move around on their own, so they will attach themselves to crabs’ legs to hitch a ride around the ocean. Once attached, they will feed on tiny particles of food that have escaped when the crab feeds. In this way, the barnacles clean the water for other organisms. The barnacle will also release sperm into the water so it can be retrieved by the female for reproduction.

Barnacles that are found on crab legs are not harmful to the crab. If you are cooking a crab that has barnacles on it, you can scrape the barnacles off. Or you can cook the crab with the barnacles attached. When cooked, the outer shell of the legs is removed to reveal the meat inside. So, the crab leg meat will not be affected by the barnacles.