Thousands of tiny red crabs wash up on Calif. beaches

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Thousands of Tiny Red Crabs Wash Up On SoCal Beaches

KTLA -- Thousands of small crabs native to the waters off Baja California have washed up on beaches in Orange and San Diego counties, coating the sand in a spiky layer of red.

The crustaceans -- Pleuroncodes planipes, known as red crabs, or tuna crabs -- began appearing in great numbers last week. Out of the water, they become stranded and typically perish, leaving their bodies to decay on the beach.

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Thousands of tiny red crabs wash up on Calif. beaches
A pelagic red crab is one of many thousands that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA, a phenomenon that provides more evidence that another El Nino event may be building. The crabs, also known as tuna crabs, normally live off Baja California, Mexico but appear to be riding the ocean currents as warm waters from the tropical Pacific migrate farther north than usual in a growing El Nino event. El Nino draws tropical marine life, creates powerful winter storms on the West Coast, and leads to drought conditions in some other areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
In this photo provided by Lyn Michelle Evins, Donna Kalez, manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing, poses for a photo with thousands of tiny tuna crabs that washed ashore near her place of business at Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., Sunday, June 14, 2015. The crabs have been washing up by the thousands on some Orange County beaches. (Lyn Michelle Evins via AP)
In this photo provided by Lyn Michelle Evins, Donna Kalez, manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing, poses for a photo with thousands of tiny tuna crabs that washed ashore near her place of business at Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., Sunday, June 14, 2015. The crabs have been washing up by the thousands on some Orange County beaches. (Lyn Michelle Evins via AP)
Thousands of pelagic red crabs pile up on the beach as they wash ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA, a phenomenon that provides more evidence that another El Nino event may be building. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A dog runs past a pelagic red crab which is one of many thousands that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Dogs run across some of the many thousands of pelagic red crabs that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A pelagic red crab is one of many thousands that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A pelagic red crab is one of many thousands that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Children look at the thousands of pelagic red crabs that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A pelagic red crab is one of many thousands that are washing ashore May 7, 2002 in San Diego, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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The crabs were first reported San Diego and then ventured up the coast, with thousands appearing as far north as Huntington Beach on Sunday. They were also reported in Newport Beach in January, according to the Los Angeles Times.

About 1 to 3 inches in length, the crabs look like small lobsters. They often appear in El Niño years, prompted to venture north by warmer Pacific Ocean currents.

The crabs travel in dense schools in the spring and sometimes wash ashore, the San Pedro-based Southern California Marine Institute's director told the Times.

They appeared in the late 1990s locally and then several years later in the Channel Islands, the Times reported.

"They often hang around with tuna, and tuna love to eat them," Charina Layman, education manager of La Jolla's Birch Aquarium, told KFMB. "We see this occur every few years, and right now the water is a little bit warmer off our coast."

A park ranger at Doheny State Beach said the water temperature on Sunday was 72 degrees.

Orange County lifeguards were asking people not to touch or take the crabs from marine protected areas, the OC Register reported.

Weekend beachgoers, meanwhile, were posting photos of the striking invasion to social media.

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