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Eriocheir sinensis

(Chinese Mitten Crab)


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Crustacean. This migrating crab is native to Asia and has invaded Europe and now North America. It contributes to local extinction of native invertebrates, modifies habitats due to burrowing activities and costs industries (e.g. fishing and aquaculture) several 100,000s of dollars per year. Its burrowing behavior causes bank erosion. Crabs have been used as bait for eel fishing, to produce fish meal , cosmetic products and as fertilizer in agriculture.The Chinese mitten crab supports a $1.25 billion per annum aquaculture industry in China (Herborg et al. 2005 In Press ).

Common Names

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Common Names in English:

Chinese Mitten Crab


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Family Grapsidae

Carapace almost rectangular, with distinct teeth on the lateral margins ; free-living.

Physical Description

Species Eriocheir sinensis

The main identifying features of the mitten crab are the dense patches of hair on the white-tipped claws of larger juveniles and adults , hence the name mitten crab. The claws are equal in size, the shell (carapace) has four spines on either side, and reaches a width of approximately 3 inches (80 mm). The legs of the adult crab are generally more than twice as long as the width of the carapace (Washinton Sea Grant Program, 2000).


Eriocheir sinensis tolerates a wide range of abiotic factors . All three regions of the world in which E. sinensis occur exhibit a temperate climate; however, the temperature range mitten crabs encounter within these regions is large, and laboratory studies underscore the crab’s ability to tolerate a wide range of temperatures. The Chinese mitten crab has exhibited a remarkable ability to survive in highly modified aquatic habitats , as it encounters highly altered and polluted waters in many parts of its native and introduced ranges (Rudnick A. Deborah et al., 2003).

Typically found at an altitude of 0 to 197 meters (0 to 646 feet).[1]

Ecology: Introduced populations of the Chinese mitten crab have caused several economic and ecological impacts . Commercial and recreational fishing operations have been hindered due to bait stealing and damage to gear and the catch by the crab (Panning 1939; Rudnick and Resh 2002). In California, the mitten crab has also interfered with operations at federal and state water diversion plants ; in years with high abundances of crabs, large numbers of downstream-migrating mitten crabs have become trapped in holding tanks meant to keep fish out of turbines, and have caused high fish mortalities and high costs associated with preventing the crab's entry (Siegfried 1999). Juvenile E. sinensis form dense colonies of burrows in the intertidal portions of streams , and this process has undermined the integrity of stream banks and levees in Europe and the US (Peters and Panning 1933; Dutton and Conroy 1998; Rudnick et al. 2003). The mitten crab likely impacts freshwater and estuarine food webs at many levels, as it has an opportunistic diet that includes algae, detritus , and a variety of benthic macroinvertebrates (Panning 1939; Hoestlandt 1948; Gollasch 1999; Rudnick et al. 2003). These impacts have been, and likely will continue to be, exacerbated by population explosions such as was seen in 1998 in San Francisco Bay ; similar population explosions have been reported from European countries (Panning 1939a; Gollasch 1999).


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Sexual, modulated by water temperature .

A catadromous species, the adults migrate downstream to reproduce in the brackish waters of estuaries. The females carry 250,000 to 1 million eggs until hatching , and both sexes die soon after reproduction . After a 1-2 month period as planktonic larvae, the small juvenile crabs settle out in salt or brackish water in late spring , then migrate, often long distances , to freshwater to rear . In China's Yangtze River , mitten crabs have been reported 800 miles upstream from the Yellow Sea (Washington Sea Grant Program, 2000).Mitten crabs have been reported to take between 1 and 5 years to attain sexual maturity, with shorter time frames reported from aquacultured populations in southern China (Zhang et al. 2001), and longer time periods of 4-5 years reported from Germany (Panning 1939).Mitten crabs are adept walkers on land , and if blocked by dams, weirs or other obstructions during their migration, move readily across banks or levees to bypass them. In Germany, large numbers of mitten crabs left the water at night when they encountered an obstruction, and occasionally wandered the streets and entered houses. In California, mitten crabs have been found on roads and airport runways, in parking lots , yards and swimming pools .


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Name Status: Accepted Name .

Last scrutiny: 02-Feb-2005

Similar Species

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Members of the genus Eriocheir

ZipcodeZoo has pages for 1 species and subspecies in this genus:

E. sinensis (Chinese Mitten Crab)

More Info

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Further Reading

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Data Sources

Accessed through GBIF Data Portal March 05, 2008:



  1. Mean = 10.980 meters (36.024 feet), Standard Deviation = 42.740 based on 42 observations. Altitude information for each observation from British Oceanographic Data Centre. [back]
Last Revised: 2014-05-23