Species Profile




Snow Crab (C. opilio)

Female Snow crab mate with adult males for the first time during their last molt (maturity molt). The male crab is attracted by a chemical attractant (pheromone) released by the female. Females molt to sexual maturity and mate in the softshell condition while grasped by the male. Older hardshelled females are also mated by adult males, but in the absence of a male they are capable of producing an egg clutch with sperm stored from a previous mating. A female Snow crab may deposit 85,000 to 424,000 eggs in a clutch. Fertilization is internal, and the eggs are usually ovulated (extruded) within 48 hours onto the female's abdominal flap where they incubate for a year. Hatching occurs late the following winter and spring with the peak hatching period usually during April to June. This is normally the peak of the spring plankton bloom, so egg hatch coincides with the high availability of food for the larvae crab.

The young, free-swimming larvae molt many times and grow through several distinct stages. Growth during this period is usually dependent on water temperature but lasts about 63 to 66 days, after which the larvae lose their swimming ability and settle to the ocean bottom. After numerous molts and several years of growth, females mature at approximately 5 years of age while males mature at about 6 years. Snow may live to an estimated maximum age of 14 years.

Female crabs require an average of 29 days to release larvae, and release an average of about 110,000 larvae. Larvae are pelagic and pass through four zoeal larval stages which last about 10 days each, with length of time being dependent on temperature; the colder the temperature the slower the development and vice versa. Stage I zoeae must find food within 60 hours as starvation reduces their ability to capture prey and successfully molt. Zoeae consume phytoplankton, the diatom Thalassiosira spp. in particular, and zooplankton. The fifth larval stage is the non-feeding and transitional glaucothoe stage in which the larvae take on the shape of a small crab but retain the ability to swim by using their extended abdomen as a tail. This is the stage at which the larvae searches for appropriate settling substrate, and once finding it, molts to the first juvenile stage and henceforth remains benthic. The larval stage is estimated to last for 2.5 to 4 months and larvae metamorphose and settle during July through early September.