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Common swimming crab (Portunus holsatus), showing its paddle-shaped feet—Dr. Eckart Pott/Bruce Coleman Ltd.
Any of 4,500 species of short-tailed decapod, found in all oceans, in freshwater, and on land. Its carapace (upper body shield) is usually broad, and its first pair of legs is modified into pincers. Most crabs live in the sea and breathe through gills, which in land crabs are modified to serve as lungs. They walk or crawl, generally with a sideways gait; some are good swimmers. Crabs are omnivorous scavengers, but many are predatory and some are herbivorous. Two of the largest known crustaceans are the giant crab of Japan (13 ft, or 4 m, from claw tip to claw tip), a spider crab; and the Tasmanian crab (up to 18 in., or 46 cm, long, and weighing more than 20 lbs, or 9 kg). Other species are less than an inch long. Well-known crabs include the hermit crab, edible crab (Britain and Europe), blue crab, Dungeness crab, fiddler crab, and king crab.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on crab, visit Britannica.com.