Bluffton Packet

Blue crabs and red bugs: Lowcountry’s beauty and the beast

Jean Tanner’s Shih-Tzu Muffy cautiously checks out a blue crab on the dock.
Jean Tanner’s Shih-Tzu Muffy cautiously checks out a blue crab on the dock. Special to The Bluffton Packet

Summertime ushers in two Lowcountry critters. One you can enjoy and the other you will not. But they have one thing in common - they both bite.

The blue crab lives in water while the red bug lives on land. As a child, I was able to acquire both of these on the same day because when I was walking down the dirt road that led to the creek to catch a crab on a line baited with a chicken neck the red bug, uninvited, would hitch a ride on my bare feet and join me. Later. when enjoying those boiled-red-to-perfection crabs, the red bug caused havoc, creating welts on my legs from my scratching.

Red bugs are known by scientists as ‘trombicudium’, a family of mites best known as chiggers. They are so small you need a magnifying glass to spot, but their bites can leave you with a powerful urge to scratch.

These little critters aren’t classified as insects but are in the same family as spiders and ticks, arachnids, meaning they have eight legs which enable them to make a speedy journey to their destination. They are most active in late spring, summer, and early fall when ground temps are between 77 and 86 degrees, meaning with all the hot, humid days hovering around for the last month, they ought to be in hog-heaven.

They may be lurking anywhere, especially in moist, grassy area like your lawn or in tall uncut grass near a lake or beside a dirt road, which is where I have been accosted by the little pest. As long as I stay on the dirt road I’m fine, but step in the grass to get a closer photograph of a particular subject and “bingo”, they’re on me like white-on-rice. I don’t realize I’ve been attacked until later, when they’ve had time to crawl to obscure, inconspicuous places where they have no business.

It’s not an adult thing because it’s the aggravating babies, freshly hatched and hanging around in clumps on the grass, tht are waiting to attack the first warm body that comes by, be it animal or human. Actually, they don’t bite, per se, but bore into the skin where they inject a digestive enzyme that breaks down the skin cells, making it easier for them to chew off the body parts they want. So as far as relief goes, forget the nail polish in hopes of smothering them because by the time you feel the itch they’ve already left the scene-of-the-crime. Your best bet is OTC hydrocortisone ointment for the ‘itchy-ness’.

The summertime critter we can enjoy is the blue crab. Surrounded by many salt water rivers, we, in the Lowcountry have access and ample opportunity to catch a mess of these tasty crustaceans while avoiding the bite of their ‘pinching’ claws. We can catch them either the old-fashioned way, with a line baited with a chicken neck and a scoop net nearby, or a more updated version of the baited drop basket that’s handy to use from a dock.

After processing them you can indulge yourself by eating them promptly or save the meat for a tasty dish. One of these tasty dishes can be made from my own tried and true recipe that follows. Enjoy!

Jean’s Crab Cakes

12 crushed saltine crackers

2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s)

2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

2 teaspoons parsley flakes

½ teaspoon ground dry mustard

¼ teaspoon celery salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Dash ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 egg beaten

1-lb. lump crab meat

Mix all ingredients and shape into patties (usually 8 medium size patties)

Place in non-stick fry pan that has a pat of melted butter in it. On medium high, braise patty on one side five minutes, flip and braise on other side five minutes. (A lid can be placed on pan to assure doneness’ at this step) Patties may also be broiled 10 minutes without turning until golden brown if so desired. Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 10 minutes.