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Dive Photo Guide


Small Crabs
By Eric Riesch, June 20, 2012 @ 05:10 PM (EST)

By Eric Riesch

Sometimes it is easy to skip a night dive. After three or four dives and a nice meal, the temptation to have a drink at the bar, enjoy a night on the town, finish a good book or just catch some zzzzs is often greater than another dive.

Everything in moderation my friends! A few nights off the reef during a trip is fine, but a simple fact remains…. the best time to shoot crustaceans is at night. Day or night many divers look for the larger subjects, but I prefer to go small.

Little crabs (less than an inch)

The reef is full of various crabs waiting for the cover of darkness to come out and feed. The bigger crabs can be easier to find, but the little ones are just as photogenic and offer more of a challenge. Carefully look in holes, recesses and sponges where critters have been hiding out during the day. At night they tend to slowly rise to the top of the reef allowing plenty of opportunities for photographers.

One of the most beautiful crabs in the Caribbean is the Gaudy Clown Crab (Platypodiella spectabilis), less than ¾ inch in size and easily recognized by its beautiful orange color and dark spots on white blotches.


Crab fights

While searching for small crabs at night, I occasionally stumble upon several within a few feet of each other. When two or more crabs cross paths, sometimes they engage in a domination battle that can last several minutes. Tossing, turning and tumbling the combat is often damaging for the crab, but for photographers this is a good opportunity for an action shot.


Crabs releasing eggs

During one of my night dive adventures in the Caribbean I found what appeared to be a couple of small crabs hiding under a ledge and bouncing. To my delight the bouncing was a precursor to the release of eggs.



Teardrop Crabs

After years of photographing crabs in the Caribbean, recently I have become most intrigued by the group of decorator crabs called Teardrop Crabs in the genus of Pelia.  There are 2 crabs in this genus found in the Caribbean – the Cryptic Teardrop Crab (Pelia mutica) and the Southern Teardrop Crab (Pelia rotunda).

The Cryptic Teardrop Crab can be distinguished by its light blue to purple claws with dark speckles and is common from South Florida through the Caribbean. The Southern Teardrop Crab has claws banded in shades of brown and is found only from the Southern Caribbean to Brazil.

They both live in and around sponges and actually attach the sponge to their carapace and legs for camouflage.  They are both around ½ inch in size, found from 20 to 130 feet in depth.



 Crab Underwater Photography Tips


  • Pick a small area (10 to 20 square feet) and scour the reef. Look in holes, under ledges and within sponges.
  • Stay with one subject for a while and follow them along the reef as they might lead you to other crabs to photograph.



  • Strobe placement at night is critical, keep the strobe close to the lens for macro shots and always be aware of where it is aiming.
  • Once you see a crab rising into position you may have to shut off your lights or at least move the strobe away from the subject to not scare them, then move back in quickly for the shot.
  • Rotate yourself around the crab to get shots with the eyes in focus. It may take some creative maneuvering and lots of patience!

Author Bio – Eric Riesch is the photo editor at New World Publications on their series of marine life identification books. For more information on Teardrop Crabs and other crustaceans see Reef Creature Identification – Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach.


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