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The History and Life Cycle of the Alaskan King Crab

As one of the most highly treasured, sought after species of crab in existence, Alaskan King Crab is an unrivaled species that has no comparison to its size, quality, and appearance.

Its snow-white body is distinctive among crustaceans, and the leg meat is exceptionally sweet and rich with a tender texture. Alaska King Crabs average between 6 and 10 pounds, and are available in clusters or individual legs and claws. As a good source of quality protein that’s also low in fat and calories, you can’t go wrong with serving up this seafood delicacy on numerous occasions!

 

A little crab history

From an evolutionary perspective, king crabs are arthropods, and are among the world’s largest. Arthropods have a very sturdy, calcium fortified exoskeleton, as you can tell if you’ve ever handled a crab. Oddly enough, king crabs are descendants of hermit crabs, which have a history dating back over 150 million years. King crabs can trace their evolution from one of the hermit crab lineages, a part of the crab genus known as Pagurus. The complete evolution of king crabs to their present day form took place over a period of between 13 to 25 million years. There are over 18 species of Alaskan King Crab and 4 that are typically fished on a regular basis found in the waters of Alaska.

A long life ahead begins

An adult female Alaskan King Crab can lay between 45,000 and 500,000 eggs per year! The eggs will stay nestled under the female’s wide tail flap for close to a year before they begin to hatch.

The baby king crabs are born as larvae, and can start swimming on their own right after hatching. They’ll only spend between two and three months as larvae, which is a critical time in their survival. The threat of being carried or swept away by tides and currents determines how long the tiny larvae will live. Those that do make it survive by using animal and plant plankton to feed on as they develop over the course of several months.

As the larvae start to settle down to the seafloor, their molting cycles begin. This process starts them on their way to becoming king crabs. As they begin taking on the shape and structure of a crab, the ability to swim is lost, even as tiny as they still are in this early period of their lives.

The Alaskan King Crab has a skeleton that during this time also serves as a shell, but is primarily composed of calcium. Before it can grow to its various sizes before reaching adulthood, the shell must molt over and over. Throughout the first years of the crab’s life, the molting process occurs many times, but as it continues to mature, molting slows down. While a male nearing adulthood can hang on to its shell for at least a couple of years, if a female crab wants to mate, she must molt before mating!

 

Young and restless

Once a king crab reaches the youthful age of between 2 and 4 years old, they prefer living in waters with depths of about 150 feet or more. From the sounds of things, this is the place to be when you’re a king crab, because pods made up of crabs by the thousands form clusters to presumably “hang out” together.

When crabs reach the tender age of about 4, they emerge from the deep waters to join adult king crabs for the spring migration to spawn in shallow waters. Sometimes their spawning migration has taken them over 100 miles just to mate. That’s a long way to go for love! The season for love (okay, spawning), typically runs from January through June.

 

After the spawning

Once the season for spawning ends, the crabs will likely settle down to wait out the year in optimal water depth at between 90 and 200 feet. At these depths, the sand is soft and easy to create a resting and nesting place to call home. The perfect depth also varies among king crabs. Red and Blue Alaskan King Crabs seek out shallower depths whereas the Golden Alaska King Crab prefer deeper waters 300 feet down and more.

 

Stayin’ alive

To maintain its “claw-hold” on life in the world’s waters, the food sources of Alaskan King Crabs are numerous, and include snails, barnacles, clams, sponges, algae, sand dollars, worms, and even smaller crab (and these are just a few). But their diets can vary depending on size and the type of crab they are, plus how deep their habitat in the water is.

At the same time though, the Alaskan King Crab has to watch out for a few natural predators that could easily make a meal of it too. These include fish like the halibut and Pacific cod, other types of crabs, and bigger threats such as sea otters and octopuses.

When it comes to longevity, it may come as no surprise that compared to most crustaceans king crabs are generally long-livers. The male red king crab can live between 20 and 30 years, and they’re big dudes too -- they can reach a weight of nearly 24 pounds and a leg span that’s close to 5 feet.

 

And the cycle begins again

In the spring, after a female king crab molts and becomes fertilized, another 45,000 to 500,000 eggs are laid, and the journey begins again.

 

Why is Alaskan King Crab such a draw?

After you digest the history, facts, and insights about Alaskan King Crabs, you might want to know, what then makes it such a catch (pun intended). Well, it might be because you can be amazed by a massive piece of crab meat that you find all together beneath its shell. The texture and flavor you find in eating king crab is more delicate and softer than many other crab varieties. Plus the special “sweetness” of Alaskan King Crab is unlike the taste of any other crab.

The size is incomparable. With their enormous leg sizes, the most desired part of the crab contains some of the largest pieces of meat. There’s no other crab species that can compare to it, and the thought of dipping big chunks of that delicious meat into a warm ramekin of butter is enough to send anyone overboard!

King crab meat is also very healthy, as a leaner source of protein, low in fat and calories, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are good for reducing inflammation and increasing heart health.

Lastly, Alaska King Crab is one of the most sustainable foods in the world. The species of king crabs is abundant, healthy and fished from the pristine waters off of Alaska’s beautiful and naturally rugged coastline of over 34,000 miles.

Treat yourself to a delicious meal of Alaskan King Crab soon, and discover for yourself why it has such a rich history!