Ocean predator off NC eats hundreds of eggs, video shows, as experts watch helplessly

Ocean explorers off North Carolina say they stumbled on a rarely seen sea-floor nest with hundreds of eggs in it, only to watch helplessly as many of the eggs were devoured by a gluttonous crab.

The frenzied feeding was captured in an occasionally unsettling video recorded off Roanoke Island, at a depth of 3,018 feet, according to NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research.

Among the unsettling parts: Closeups of the crab’s jiggling mouth parts, encircled by a pink rash of smaller scavengers ”like ants at a picnic.”

“We came upon a Chaceon crab perched above a white patch on the seafloor,” said team member Scott France in a report posted by NOAA Ocean Exploration.

“A closer look revealed the patch to be a cluster of hundreds of eggs... We watched the crab plucking eggs from the pile with its... clawed legs and eating them... Furthermore, we observed dozens of amphipods (distant crustacean relatives of the crab) clinging to and crawling over the crab’s mouthparts.”

The tiny crustaceans -- seen in the video with glowing eyes -- were presumed to be “taking advantage of the sloppy feeding of the crab” as they waited for crumbs to fall.

The eggs are believed to have been deposited by a Fathead, a bottom dweller that is part of a family of fish dubbed the “ugliest animal you’ve ever seen” by Untamed Science.

Team members say the scene revealed not only where Fatheads leave their eggs, but the drama that plays out when the eggs are left unguarded.

The team was off North Carolina as part of the Windows to the Deep 2019 expedition, which was backed by NOAA and staffed by marine scientists from institutions and universities across the country.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.