Sand Swirl

Who are the artists responsible for these masterpieces that magically appear on the beaches of Palawan at low tide? These Vincent Van Goghs are actually tiny, almost invisible crabs, called Sand Bubbler Crabs! They come out of their burrows when the tide is down. They eat the micro-animal particles on sand grains, then scrape the leftovers into balls, and toss them out, working in circular patterns.

Crab Art

The Sand Bubbler is about one centimeter wide, or less than one-half inch. Their native habitat is the tropical Indo-Pacific region, so they are found in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Australia.

They are very hard to see, as their exterior matches the color of the sand. And they are shy, scurrying back to their holes in the sand when approached. But, the longer the tide is out, the more elaborate are their masterpieces.

Sand Bubbler Crab Masterpiece

Each pattern is unique. I’ve seen sunbursts, sheaves of wheat, snails.

In a scene in Because of Palawan, Shelby and the guy she is getting to know find and marvel over these sand swirls on a beach.

Sunburst in the Making — Like the Philippine Flag

For more images and information, including some video footage of the little guys, check out the links below: