Eriocheir sinensis (Chinese mitten crab)

The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, has been widely introduced into many regions outside of its native range in China. As a result, it has been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) list of the world's worst 100 invasive alien species.

It has conspicuous setal mats on its claws and both its British common name, Chinese mitten crab, and its scientific name, Eriocheir sinensis, which means ‘wool hand, the Chinese’, originate from this distinguishing feature. It is the only crab in Britain that has this.

Species detail

As an alien species the mitten crab has the potential to upset existing ecosystems and cause a variety of problems by

  • competing with and preying on native species
  • damaging riverbanks

It can also disrupt fishing operations, as it has sharp claws that can destroy nets and damage fish caught within them.

Museum scientists are involved in research to assess whether alien populations of the crab could be controlled by commercial exploitation. In particular, they have addressed whether the crabs in the River Thames in London are safe to eat and whether they could be fished commercially. Their results were announced in February 2009.

  • Illustration of Eriocheir sinensis that accompanied the 1854 description by H. Milne Edwards
    Taxonomy

    Learn about the taxonomy of Eriocheir sinensis and related species.

  • An oviparous female mitten crab from the Thames, with eggs attached
    Life history and migration behaviour

    Mitten crabs are catadromous. That is, they spend most of their life in freshwater, but must return to higher salinities to breed. Learn more about their life history and migration behaviour.

  • Mitten crab burrows in the unprotected river bank of Syon Park flood meadow in London
    Distribution

    Get information about the native range of Eriocheir sinensis and learn about its spread around the world, including its introduction into Britain and Europe.

  • Probable mitten crab burrows in a reed bed on the south bank of Chiswick Eyot, UK
    Ecology

    Find out about the habitat preferences of mitten crabs and what they feed on.

  • Mitten crab art from China
    Associations

    Eriocheir sinensis is a host of the lung fluke Paragonimus westermani which causes the disease paragonimiasis if passed on to humans. Find out more, including the results of an analysis of mitten crabs in the River Thames.

  • Image of the inside of a mitten crab, with testis labelled
    Management

    If this invasive species isn't managed effectively, populations could cause irreparable damage to native ecosystems and spread even further. Find out the results of Museum scientists' research into whether a commercial fishery could be used to reduce the number of mitten crabs in the River Thames and what the next step is.

  • Left claw of a male mitten crab
    References

    Get reference information for the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis.

Images

Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis

The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, can grow to a large size. The width of its carapace often exceeds 84mm and, taking its legs into account, it can be as big as a dinner plate. © Aquatonics Ltd

Illustration of Eriocheir sinensis that accompanied the 1854 description by H. Milne Edwards

Illustration of Eriocheir sinensis that accompanied the 1854 description by H. Milne Edwards in the Archives du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle.

An oviparous female mitten crab from the River Thames, with eggs attached

An egg-bearing female mitten crab from the River Thames in London, with around a million eggs attached to her underside.

A juvenille mitten crab in the palm of someone's hand

A juvenille mitten crab in the palm of someone's hand.

Mitten crab burrows in the unprotected river bank of Syon Park flood meadow in London

Mitten crab burrows in the unprotected river bank of Syon Park flood meadow in London, photographed in November 2005.

Probable mitten crab burrows on the south bank of Chiswick Eyot in the River Thames

Photographed in November 2005, this reed bed on the southern bank of Chiswick Eyot in the River Thames, London, is peppered with probable mitten crab burrows. The remnants of the collapsing bank can be seen on the beach in the foreground.

Mitten crab art from China

Eriocheir sinensis is considered to be a delicacy in many countries in east Asia and is a relatively common subject depicted in Chinese art. Here the crabs are shown piled up on a plate. © Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House

Image of the inside of a mitten crab, with testis labelled

The ovaries and testes of mitten crabs are considered to be a delicacy in southeast Asia. Consequently mitten crabs are a seasonal product, consumed during the autumn migration period when the gonads are ripening.

Left claw of a male mitten crab

The left claw of a male mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis). Both the common name and scientific name of this species originate from the distinctive appearance of its claws.

Video of adult crabs

Watch a video showing the collection of live adult mitten crabs from the River Thames in London.

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Video of young crabs

Watch a video showing the collection of juvenille mitten crabs collected from under a rock on the banks of the River Thames in London.

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About the author

Paul Clark
Dr Paul Clark

Crustacean researcher focusing on invasive Chinese mitten crabs, brachyuran larvae and the phylogeny of xanthoids.

Glossary

Setal mat
A mass of setae, which are filamentous projections that appear similar to stiff hairs or bristles.

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