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Dungeness Crabs or Red Rock Crabs? A Story of Identification

Posted by Sydney C de Baca on

Ahh Dungeness crabs:  a Pacific Northwest delicacy.  

 Dungeness Crab Tea Towel

And only after I painted them did I realize that confusion reigns among the locals in how to identify them.  

I research all my projects in preparation for painting them, and the crabs were no exception.  Aside from online research, I went to my local Seattle fishmonger at Central Market.  They have both live and cooked Dungeness crabs there.  A lovely gentleman carefully held a live one out for me to photograph:  

Live Dungeness Crab

Then I photographed a cooked one.  

Cooked Dungeness Crab

So when they're alive, Dungeness are a range of bluish-purple-brown.  When cooked, they're red.  

However, many folks at local art festivals and markets have said that I have missed the boat on the crab, saying that Dungeness are red even when alive and that I have painted rock crabs. 

After all these responses, I decided to double check, wondering if despite all my research I might have gotten it wrong.  For the ultimate test, I wrote to the crab specialist, David Armstrong, at the UW Marine Biology Department.  

Professor Armstrong said that while they are generally more purple (this towel printing is a bit too blue), I did indeed paint a Dungeness crab.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife concurs:  the more purple crab is the Dungeness and the dark red crab is the Red Rock crab.  

No one, however, has been able to explain how this confusion between these two crabs came about.  My cursory research into the matter has not revealed any clues.  

While I am disappointed not to have uncovered more about the mystery of this identification history, I am extremely pleased to have met so many people who love all our delicious Pacific Northwest crustaceans, be they Dungeness or Red Rock crabs, and who even love wading into the waters themselves to get them.  

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