Pelagic Red Crab – Pleuroncodes planipes, also called simply “red crab”, tuna crab, or a langostino. It is a type of squat lobster (dorsoventrally flattened crustaceans with long tails held curled beneath the thorax). These crabs are one of the most abundant species of micronekton in the California Current which sometimes drives them up the California coast. Occasionally they swarm beaches when in the pelagic zone, and as they wash up and become stranded on shore, they become food to seabirds.

They are a favorite food of tuna (thus the name ‘tuna crab’) along with billfish, yellowtail, shark, and gray and blue whales. Marine mammals, like sea otters, and many species of seabirds, like the herring gull, also feed on the pelagic red crab.

Dana Point Fish Company | Pelagic Rec Crab

Dana Point Fish Company | Pelagic Red Crab

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The pelagic red crab looks like a lobster, but has a shorter, flattened abdomen.
  • The small, micro hairs on their legs are used to collect food.
  • Small crustacean, up to 5.1 inches long.

Range and Habitat:

  • These crabs are found south of San Diego, CA, to Chile in the Pacific, but travel more north during El Ninos. They like shallow waters and reside along the continental shelf west off Baja California, Mexico.
  • Their habitat is great. The first two years of life, they live mainly at the bottom, and at this stage in life, are also found as a planktonic animal. After this time, they stick to the benthic zone but live part of their lives in the pelagic zone getting swept up in the California Current and can be found at the surface.
  • Pelagic red crabs feed on protists, zooplankton, and will filter diatom blooms.

Market Forms:

While Pleuroncodes planipes is not a major commercially sought after crustacean, other types of squat lobsters are fished for commercially and are sold as ‘langostino lobster’.


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Boyd, Carl M. “The Benthic and Pelagic Habitats of the Red Crab, Pleuroncodes Planipes.” Pacfic Science July 1967: 394-403.

“Pleuroncodes Planipes.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

“Squat Lobster.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

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John Shelton, the Fishing Chef, will help you get ‘that’ fish onto ‘your’ plate. John’s motto is ‘release it unharmed or do it justice on the plate.’ Executive Chef, photographer, and surfer, John photographs ocean marine life when he's out fishing, and creates masterpieces in the kitchen with what he keeps on deck. His photo works have been used in OEHHA Fish Advisories, National Geographic presentations, and nonprofit marine life groups. When he's not fishing, he's making great BBQ. Visit him at, and send him a message using the contact form using the link above.