Florida and Gulf Stone Crab Species in the Big Bend of the Gulf of Mexico

Stone Crab Season Opens October 15, 2011 and Closes May 16, 2012

Stone crabs in the Big Bend of Florida are hybrids of two species, the Florida stone crab Menippe mercenaria and the gulf stone crab Menippe adina. M. mercenaria is distributed mainly in the southern part of Florida peninsula and has lighter body coloration with black spots, and white-banded walking legs. M. adina is found in the northern and western Gulf of Mexico and is more dark in color, and has solid-colored walking legs. A third species, the Cuban stone crab, is rare and confined to the tropical Atlantic and not commercially fished. Genetic studies and detailed data collection of color variation by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWC) show the two species overlap and interbreed in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida. Peter Klocksien and Tiffany Black of the FWC Cedar Key Laboratory conduct regular sampling along the Gulf of Mexico off the Big Bend (Peter is holding a Steinhatchee crab before recording data). It is thought that the colorations of the two species evolved as an adaptation to habitat type to help them blend in with the type of substrate where they live. In the Big Bend off Taylor County, crabs have highly variable color that is a combination of the more distinct colors in the table below. Hybrids often have a greenish or yellow cast to them. The Florida stone crab and gulf stone crab evolved from the same species when sea level was much higher, which isolated Florida as a group of islands from the mainland of the southeastern United States. At that time, some two to four million years ago, there was a straight across the Suwannee River area through the current Okefenokee swamp. The Suwannee Straight (passing through the Okefenokee Trough) had swift moving currents that barred flow of southern stone crab larva from the mainland. This flow also distributed larva from the northern Gulf of Mexico to the southeast U.S. in the western Atlantic. Over a long time period, the two physically isolated populations adapted and diverged to become two distinct species. In the present day, sea level is much lower and the two species are no longer genetically isolated. The species overlap in the Gulf of Mexico results in interbreeding, primarily because the Florida and gulf stone crab reproduce at the same time of the year.

Hybrid coloration of a stone crab collected as part of a current FWC monitoring program off Dixie and Taylor Counties (Photo credit: Fred Vose, University of Florida)

Summary table and common colorations of Florida and gulf stone crabs




Florida Stone Crab Gulf Stone Crab
Species M. mercenaria M. adina
Body and Claw Color Tan to light or medium gray Deep chocolate to maroon
Body and Claw Markings Black spotted, spots usually small but uniform Usually solid, occasional mottling of light brown
Leg Color and Markings Dark brown, distinct white bands Solid deep chocolate to maroon
Habitat Limestone sand, rocky outcrops, seagrass beds Muddy bottoms, rocky outcrops, seagrass beds


Florida Stone Crab Recipes (credit DOACS)

 Curried Stone Crab Claws with Hot Marmalade Sauce:


 Stone Crab Claws Miami:


 Marinated Stone Crab Claws:


 Honey Citrus Florida Stone Crab Claws with Hearts of Palm Salad:


Stone Crab Claws with Spicy Golden Mustard Sauce:


Mango Marinated Stone Crab Claws: