Beach Reads : Beautiful Swimmers

Teachable Moments is a relatively new series on the blog, you can find the archive here. And you can learn more about Saxis in this selection of posts. And if you’d like to see our favorite sun gear for toddlers, click here.

We just bought the tickets for our big annual trip to the East Coast. We’re so lucky to be able to take this big chunk of time and spend it visiting family both in PA and VA. In addition to that quality time, what I really love is being able to expose the boys to activities and ideas that they may not have at home in Colorado. Isn’t that what traveling’s all about?

Many of our days are spent at the beach, but that’s just a snippet of how the boys spend their time on the island.


Whenever Poppop’s in town, they spend many quality hours on the boat. There are one to two trips a day to check the crab pots in the bay. Sometimes they stay out longer doing a bit of fishing or line-crabbing, but our primary prey is the blue crab. Their scientific name is Callinectes sapidus, and it has the most perfect meaning : calli = beautiful, nectes = swimmer, and sapidus = savory!

There’s no better way to get intimate with nature than to get outside and get dirty. When the boys are crabbing, they’re learning so much! In particular, they’re learning about what crabs like to eat, the best way to catch them, and, once caught, how to identify the females and males. They’re getting pretty good at measuring the size of “keepers” using an old beer can. And at the end of the day, they love eating their catch!


In all of this, they’re starting to draw connections between the variety of flora and fauna living along the coast. The crabs scavenge for dead creatures in the bay (“that’s why they like to eat chicken legs!”). The female crabs lay thousands of eggs at a time, and they have to lay so many, because a large portion become food for other aquatic life. And in turn, the crabs themselves are prey for larger animals (“including us!”). As such, they will run into the marsh grasses to hide when they see a predator coming.

Most often, we catch crabs with hard shells, but every so often, a soft-shelled crab gets caught in the trap. Crabs are an arthropod, that big phylum of animals that all have exoskeletons. This is the same phylum that includes insects and spiders. These creatures have an exoskeleton, which they have to shed as they grow. Immediately after crabs molt, they can be eaten whole. Yes, shell and all!

Soft shell crabs are such a valuable delicacy that the crab shacks have water tables just outside for keeping and sorting the crabs until they molt. After molting, the crabs are immediately removed from the water to stop their shells from hardening. And then it’s off to the fryer… oy!

If you’d like to learn more about blue crabs, we have two book recommendations that can tell the tale of these beautiful swimmers better than we ever could.


Beautiful Swimmers – this is a wonderfully written book about blue crabs, the bay they live in, and the watermen that spend their days trying to catch them. I’ve read this book twice and have the urge to read it again every summer as soon as I catch my first glimpse of the bay.





Buster B. Bluecrab! – this is a beautifully illustrated book that tells the tale of Buster (the bluecrab!). It’s packed with facts about a crab’s life in the bay, including avoiding those pesky crab pots! The story is long, so you may not finish it in a single reading with younger kids, but at four years old, it keeps Alex’s attention. The illustrations provide a wonderful interpretation of life below the water’s surface, which is so valuable for kiddos if they’re often experiencing the bay from a boat or the sandy shores.


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