What are Those Tiny Red Creatures on California’s Shores?!


When strange things happen in California, inquiring minds want to know.

What are those small red lobsterish (dead) creatures doing washed up on the shores of all the Southern California beaches?


These tiny creatures- between 1-3 inches long, bright red in color, are actually little tuna crabs. Named accurately because it’s a tuna fish’s favorite snack.

According to Wikipedia, they are:

Pleuroncodes planipes, sometimes called the pelagic red crab.

They originate in the Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

So what is it that brings these bright red little fellas all along the shoreline of California as far North as Orange County?

Some say it’s because of El Niño. The warm California currents are sweeping them from their normal stomping grounds far off shore and relocating them further North, and closer to shore.

Another idea stems from El Niño sweeping the plankton in an unusual pattern, which makes the tuna crab follow them, since they eat plankton for dinner.

Sure, we may have seen them wash ashore in prior years, due to other natural factors, but in this case, the massive numbers of them indicate a larger problem.

Another observation is that these animals tend to swarm when mating season comes around, so it’s possible that the enormous crowds just mean that it’s mating season for the tuna crab! And maybe the unlucky ones that end up on shore are the cast-offs from the latest episode of The Bachelorette.

The last theory that’s been mentioned is the toxic algea threat in the Pacific Ocean that is spanning from the botton of California to the top of Washington. There is no evidence that this could be linked to the tuna crab deaths, but some say there’s a strong possibility.

If you do happen to see some of those little guys still alive, scoop them up in a bucket and try and put them back into the water. It doesn’t hurt to try, because if the tide doesn’t bring them back out to the water, they will be dinner for the local animal population. I also wouldn’t recommend eating the tuna crab, whether alive or dead, because it’s plausible that there are unknown toxins present in their little bodies.

red tuna crab
These little ones can’t be helped, they have been dead for a while

Luckily for our little friends, events like this are not necessarily a threat to their species.

Which beaches have you seen tuna crab at?




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