Kiawah Island is home to thousands of species of invertebrates, ranging in size from the lowly chigger to the horseshoe crab.  Details on some of our more prominent species can be found below
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Blue Crab

Description:  Olive-green to brown body. Bluish claws and legs.
Where to see:  Brackish and saltwater ponds, creeks, river, ocean.
Notes:  Males can be distinguished from females based on claw color and underside pattern. Males have reddish-orange color only on tips of claws, while the claws of females are reddish-orange throughout. Males also have a distinct rocket ship pattern on underside and females have a upside down U-shaped pattern. Commonly caught using chicken necks and weighted hand lines. Very good to eat. Size limit is 5 inches from point to point.

Stone Crab

Description:  Purplish-tan with a thick oval body and black tips on claws.
Where to see:  Saltwater creeks, river, ocean. 
Notes:  Up to 5 inches across with very large claws.  Usually caught in crab traps.  Take care when handling these crabs since the massive claw of an adult crab can easily crush a finger.  Stone crabs grow very slowly and are protected from harvest.  Regulations allow you to “pop off” the larger of the 2 claws after which you must return the crab to the water.  The crab will regenerate the missing claw.  Stone crab claw meat is highly sought after and considered a delicacy.

Eastern Oyster

Description:  Gray, brown, elongated shells.  Usually in clusters.  
Where to see:  Intertidal areas of saltwater rivers and creeks.   
Notes:  Forms large beds that provide vital fish habitat. Filter feeder.  Helps environment by removing sediment and pollutants from water.  Popular local seafood, typically harvested by hand at low tide in fall and winter.         

Cannonball Jellyfish

Description:  Rounded shape, purplish-white and translucent.  Darker interior.  
Where to see:  Ocean inlets, ocean, river.  Washed up on beachfront.
Notes:  Up to 7 inches wide.  Rarely stings humans unless handled and ruptured.  Very important food for Loggerhead and Leatherback Sea Turtles.           

Portegese Man-Of-War

Description:  Transparent blue-purple color, long tentacles.  
Where to see:  Ocean and beachfront, usually during summer.
Notes:  Not a true jellyfish, actually a colonial organism.  Drifts freely in ocean currents and wind, no means of locomotion.  Painful sting.  The best treatment involves removing visible tentacles with a gloved hand or shell, rinsing area with seawater, and applying an ice pack for pain relief.     

Monarch Butterfly

Description:  Orange with distinctive black and white patterns.
Where to see:  Common throughout island during summer and fall months.  
Notes:  3-4 inch wingspan.  Well known for long annual migration (3,000 miles). The larval stage is entirely dependent on milkweed plants.

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly

Description:  Blackish-brown with yellow band and spots.  
Where to see:  Common throughout island from spring to fall.
Notes:  4-5 inch wingspan.  Often seen around swamps and wetlands.  Host plant is typically the red bay, which is declining drastically from an exotic parasite.         

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Description:  Brilliant orange with black spots, 3 distinctive white spots at top of each wing.  
Where to see:  Common throughout island from spring to fall.
Notes:  2-3 inch wingspan.  Commonly seen in yards and gardens.  Host plants are various species of passionflower vines, including Maypop.  Adults feed on nectar from flowers.

Ghost Crab

Description:  Light tan, “sandy” colored.  Prominent eye stalks.  
Where to see:  Beach and dunes. Most active at night.
Notes:  2-3 inches square.  Lives in burrows in dunes.  Wets gills periodically in the ocean. Females lay eggs in ocean.  Very fast and can run up to 10 miles per hour.  Ghost crabs will prey on sea turtle eggs and hatchlings.

Sand Fiddler Crab

Description:  Purplish body with white claws.  
Where to see:  Sand and mud banks along saltwater rivers and creeks, marsh. 
Notes:  Males have 1 large claw and 1 smaller claw.  Females have 2 small claws. Males wave large claw back and forth in a territorial display.  Uses claws to gather sediment to eat.  Digs deep burrows that help aerate the marsh.   

Wharf Crab (Square-backed Marsh Crab)

Description:  Dark brown to olive colored with square, flattened shells.  
Where to see:  About an inch wide.  Eats marsh grasses such as spartina.  Spends most of its time on dry ground.  Commonly seen on docks and even crossing bike paths near the marsh.     

Hermit Crab

Description:  Reddish-brown body and small claws.  Live inside snail and whelk shells for protection.  Their back 2 pairs of legs are specially designed to hook into these shells.
Where to see:  Banks of saltwater rivers and creeks, tidal pools, ocean. 
Notes:  Our local hermit crabs live in saltwater and will die if taken out of the water. 

Horseshoe Crab

Description:  Brown shell, long tail, rounded body, 5 pairs of legs on underside.
Where to see:  Beachfront, saltwater rivers and creeks.
Notes:  Actually an arthropod and not a crab.  Eats bivalves, sandworms, and other
invertebrates. They pre-date dinosaurs and have been around for
450 million years.  Molted shells are common on the beach.


Description:  Whitish-brown, 2 long brown antennae, sharp horn (rostrum) on top of head.   
Where to see:  Saltwater ponds, creeks, river, ocean. 
Notes:  Uses legs to swim slowly forward or can move rapidly backward using its tail. Highly sought after for food.  Most often caught recreationally in cast nets during late summer and fall.  Often used as bait by inshore fisherman.  

Town of Kiawah Island
21 Beachwalker Drive
Kiawah Island, SC 29455
(843) 768-9166
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