Ghost crab fossils haunt area beaches

October 16, 2003

More than 500 remnants of prehistory--fossilized ghost crabs--have been found in the sand between Melbourne Beach and Satellite Beach. Although picked up for decades by beachcombers, these specimens were taken between 1992 and 2000. The find has been documented by Richard Turner, biological sciences, and published in the Journal of Crustacean Biology.

The Holocene and Pleistocene specimens, between 7,000 and 110,000 years-old, had been exposed by beach erosion. Biologic or geologic processes easily destroy the crabs' thin exoskeletons. They have been preserved, most likely because they died in their burrows, possibly from winterkill, and were not exposed to the wind, sea, or predators.

Such whole-body deposits of fossilized ghost crabs are rare on the east coast of the U.S., down to Brazil. That some of the fossils are as "young" as they are is also significant. Poor fossilization normally occurs in pure, clean sand exposed to tidal actions. The same process that produced the coquina ledges found along the shoreline and offshore of Brevard County probably formed the fossil crabs.

Dunes kept the specimens hidden. As a result of beach erosion, possibly because of the building of Port Canaveral, the fossils were exposed.
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Florida Institute of Technology

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