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Phylum Arthropoda > Subphylum Crustacea > Class Malacostraca > Order Decapoda > Brachyurans > Superfamily Ocypodoidea
Sand bubbler crab
Scopimera sp.
Family Dotillidae
updated Oct 2016
if you learn only 3 things about them ...
They are everywhere on the sandy shore at low tide. Don't step on them!
The tiny sand balls are processed sand. Not excretion or from burrowing.
They are related to fiddler crabs.

Where seen? This tiny ball-shaped crab is often seen on our sandy shores, just below the high water line. Resembling the little sand balls that it creates all over the shore at low tide, the crab itself is often missed. It is also very nervous and disappears instantly into its burrows at the slightest sign of danger. To spot these crabs, you will have to wait quietly next to their burrows. Stay low and avoid casting a shadow over the burrow. In a few minutes, they will appear. If you stay still, they will go about their amusing business. Do avoid stepping on sand balls on the shore as you might be stepping on a little crab!

Features: Body width 1-1.5cm. Body spherical with eyes on short stalks. These can fold away into grooves along the bodies when the crabs scurries into its burrow. Pincers long, flattened and downward-pointing. Males may have larger and longer claws than females. The crab is generally the same colour and pattern as sand. It has stiff hairs on the legs which absorb water from the wet sand. This allows the crab to stay out of water for some time.

Sometimes mistaken for the soldier crab. The sand bubbler crab is smaller and has shorter, broader pincers.

What does it eat? The sand bubbler crab eats the thin coating of edible particles on sand grains. Sand grains are scraped up with the downward pointing pincers and brought to the mouthparts that sift out these tiny particles.
The shifted sand is then discarded in a little ball. As it processes sand, a little path is scraped out from the burrow entrance. Little balls of sifted sand is piled up on either side of this path.

Sand patterns: Sand bubbler crabs are responsible for the delicate patterns of tiny balls on the sandy shores at low tide. The crabs emerge as soon as the tide recedes. You can almost tell how long the tide has been out by the patterns of their sand balls. The more intricate the pattern of sand balls, the longer the tide has been out.

Status and threats: Our sand bubbler crabs are not listed among the threatened animals of Singapore.
However, like other creatures of the intertidal zone, they are affected by human activities such as reclamation and pollution. Trampling by careless visitors also have an impact on local populations.

Chek Jawa, Feb 05


Mating sand bubbler crabs held in the hand.
Chek Jawa, Sep 03


Shore covered with tiny balls of sand
created by busy sand bubblers.

Chek Jawa, Apr 07

Chek Jawa, Mar 05

Creating little balls of sand.


Sand bubbler crabs on Singapore shores

Photos of Sand bubbler crabs for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map


Berlayar Creek, Oct 15
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on facebook.

Cyrene Reef, Feb 16
Photo shared by Heng Pei Yan on facebook.

Chek Jawa, Jul 16
Photo shared by Heng Pei Yan on facebook.

Scopimera species recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore
in red are those listed among the threatened animals of Singapore from Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.

  Family Dotillidae (previously Ocypodidae)
  Scopimera globossa
Scopimera intermedia

Links References
  • Ng, Peter K. L. and Daniele Guinot and Peter J. F. Davie, 2008. Systema Brachyurorum: Part 1. An annotated checklist of extant Brachyuran crabs of the world. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Supplement No. 17, 31 Jan 2008. 286 pp.
  • Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Edward E. Ruppert, Richard S. Fox, Robert D. Barnes. 2004.Invertebrate Zoology Brooks/Cole of Thomson Learning Inc., 7th Edition. pp. 963.
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