Alaska Species Explorer

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Red King Crab

Common Name: Red King Crab
Scientific Name: Paralithodes camtschaticus
Size:

Carapace (shell) length: up to 28cm (11in), Leg span: 1.5m (5ft), Maximum recorded weight (male): 10.9kg (24lbs). Females are smaller than males.

Distribution: Bering Sea including Norton Sound, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska to SE Alaska
Habitat: Up to 250m (1100ft) deep
Life History:

King crabs molt before mating in the spring just after previous eggs are hatched. Eggs are carried externally by the females and develop for close to one year with the hatch timed to the abundance of plankton in the spring.  Larval crabs go through four molts called zoea followed by the glaucothoe stage which settles to the bottom.  Subsequent molts are as a fully formed crab stage in which growth occurs during each subsequent molt. Juvenile crabs settle out in shallower waters.  Red king crabs migrate to deeper water annually and back to shallower water to spawn. Maximum age can be up to 25 to 30 years although most do not survive this long.

Diet in the Wild:

King crabs are omnivorous and opportunistic: small invertebrates including worms, bivalve and gastropod mollusks, other crabs, echinoderms, and fish

Natural Predators:

Fish like cods, halibut and other flatfish species, sculpins and skates;  octopus, other king crabs

Population Status:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game describes the status of red king crabs as healthy. However, most stocks of red king crabs in Alaska are depressed and fisheries there are limited or on hold.  SE Alaska stocks are considered sizable enough to fish and there are some local stocks elsewhere in the state with highly regulated quotas.
King crab populations are cyclic with environmental conditions affecting numbers. Human harvest needs to be closely regulated to adjust for these changes in population and forecasting population changes is important in managing the fishery to avoid overharvest as has happened in the past.

Additional Information:

Red king crab still is Alaska’s largest shellfish fishery. In 2011, 17 million pounds of red king crab were landed valued at over $110 million.

Fun Facts:
  • Red king crabs are closely related to hermit crabs based on genetic analysis.  Like hermit crabs, king crabs have different sized claws. The right claw is usually the larger and is shaped for crushing while the smaller claw seems to be used for tearing apart food.
  • Other, less abundant king crabs in Alaska include the blue, golden and scarlet species.  
  • King crabs form aggregations called pods where the animals stack up on one another in a behavior thought to be defense against predators.  Pods can be several feet high and consist of thousands of crabs.
     

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