Amber and Max walking along a pebble beach at the white cliffs of Dover

Kabourophobia, and why I’m terrified of crabs

Kabourophobia: Fear of crabs (the sea-creature, not the disease). From the Greek root kabouros, meaning crab, and phobos, meaning fear. – Urban Dictionary

In one of my earliest memories, I’m running along a beach. I’m around 3 years old, maybe 4, so it’s probably North Berwick: I don’t recall. What I do remember of that day, however, is that, at some point I either stopped or fell… right in front of an old sandcastle, which was absolutely covered – covered – in dead crabs; their spindly legs and spiteful little claws all sticking up in the air like something from a horror movie.

In later years, I assumed I must have imagined this scene – or heavily embellished it, at the very least. When I asked my dad, though – who had been chasing me along the sand at the time, and who came to a stop on front of that same sandcastle – he confirmed that yes, it did happen, and, yes, it was a pretty horrible sight, really.

But it did not give me my fear of crabs – or kabourophobia, as it’s more properly known.

No, my fear of crabs came later: I’m not sure quite how much later, because I have no memory of this one at all, but my parents tell me that, at some point after what I’ve come to think of as The Sandcastle Incident, we went back to the beach – this time with some family friends, who had children just a little bit older than I was at the time.

We had a lovely day on the sand, by all accounts, and, in the evening, the adults decided to just throw all of the kids into the bath together, to wash us all down before bed. (So, yes, I was young enough to have fit into a tub with two other kids: I know that much, at least…)

All was going well, until suddenly – or so I’m told – I started screaming that crabs were in the water and they were pinching me. I was absolutely hysterical: so much so that I ended up getting a solid scolding from my parents, who were completely unable to convince me that the crabs from the beach could not, under any circumstances, have made it all the way to the house, much less climbed into the bath.

the beach at St Margaret's Bay, Kent

The next morning, though, my legs were black and blue: not from crab claws (Well, I mean, obviously…), but from the little fingers of the children with me, who, it transpired, had been pinching me under the water, and saying it was “crabs”. So, that was fun for me.

And that, I think, is where the kabourophobia came from: not just from the horrible sight on the beach, or from the pinching fingers of my little friends, but from both of these things, combined with the scolding I’d gotten for screaming so much. (Yes, my parents STILL feel guilty about that, don’t worry…) I’m no psychologist, of course, but I’d hazard a guess that my mind somehow formed an association between the scary looking crabs + pain + being in trouble, and it’s an association that has never, ever been broken.

To this day, I am absolutely terrified of crabs: to an extent that’s actually pretty hard to explain to anyone who’s never experienced some kind of phobia.

The thing is, phobias are something that aren’t really understood by a lot of people – probably because the term itself is often used interchangeably with “fear”. So, people say they have a “phobia” of spiders, say, when what they really mean is, “I don’t really like them.”

I don’t much like spiders either, as it happens: I wouldn’t willingly hold or touch one, I get Terry to remove any that come too close to me, and, on the few occasions that one has actually landed on me, I’ve freaked the hell out.

I’m thinking here of that memorable time when, as a young teenager, I got out of the bath one evening and pulled on my dressing gown, only to realise there was a giant spider crawling up the inside of it : at which point I screamed my head off, and streaked naked down the hall to my bedroom, not even caring that our house was open plan, my parents were entertaining friends in the living room at the time, and anyone who’d happened to be standing at the bottom of the stairs would’ve been treated to… well, quite the sight, basically.

But that’s not a phobia.

No, you see, if it had been a crab rather than a spider inside my dressing gown (Yeah, I know it’s unlikely, but bear with me here…), I wouldn’t have just run into my bedroom: I’d have run right out of the house – in fact, I’d probably have jumped out of the window if I had to.

I’m not joking about that, either. One of my favourite ways of trying to explain my phobia of crabs to people is by saying that I would probably jump out of a moving vehicle to get way from one if I had to. I wouldn’t do that for a spider, because, while I’m not keen on finding them crawling up my dressing gown, obviously, I’m not terrified of them, either.

I can be in a room with a spider (as long as it’s not actually ON me).

I can get up close to a spider and have a look it.

I can look at photos and videos of spiders, listen to people tell stories about them, remove dead (or very small) ones from the house, and, I’m pretty sure that if you offered me enough money, I’d probably be able to force myself to pick one up. If I had to.

I couldn’t do any of those things with crabs. (Or, indeed, their close cousins, lobsters, because while what I have would probably be best described as kabourophobia – a fear of crabs, specifically – it turns out that ostraconophobia – fear of crustaceans in general – is also a thing, and, yup, I think I might be a strong candidate for that one, too. Fun!)

Kabourophobia : fear of crabs and other crustaceansMy fear of crabs is so intense that I can’t even look at photos of the things. Touching a photo of a crab would be out of the question. I used to regularly wake up screaming that there was a crab in my bed: sometimes I’d make it as far as the bedroom door – or even the bathroom – before I’d realise it was just a dream. I once tried to get through a fire door at Sea Life Loch Lomond when I spotted a member of staff holding a giant crab in the air (No, I shouldn’t have gone there in the first place: I DID warn my family…), and my mum still talks about the time I asked her to carry me off Gullane Beach when I realised I was surrounded by the things. I was in my 30s at the time. I wish I was joking.

(Oh, and don’t even get me started on all the times I’ve gone out to dinner with friends and had to shamefacedly explain that if they order the lobster, I’ll have to leave. Yes. )

Kabourophobia is a completely irrational fear, of course: many phobias are. I’m not scared of crabs because I think they’re going to hurt me: I’m scared of them because they’re FREAKING TERRIFYING. And that’s all there is to it, really.

There are probably lots of things I could do to overcome my fear of crabs, of course. My friend, for instance, who actually DOES – or did, rather – have an actual phobia of spiders, a lot like my kabourophobia, has had a lot of success with hypnotherapy, and was even able to hold a spider after one of her sessions. So that’s probably one option.

I say “probably”, though, because this is the part where I have to hold my hands up and admit that I haven’t actually done anything at all to combat my fear of crabs: mostly because I don’t WANT to. Confronting my fear would involve confronting crabs, you see – and I’m so scared of them that I don’t even want to imagine putting myself in scenario that might put me in contact with one.

And the fact is, as I’m always telling myself, if you’re going to have a phobia of some kind, kabourophobia is a pretty good one to pick – assuming you live inland, of course.

For the most part, my fear of crabs doesn’t really affect my life. Unlike spiders, say, crabs don’t tend to come crawling up the plughole (NOTE: if you have a story about a crab who did this, DO NOT TELL ME IT), or hang out in the bath uninvited. I have never discovered one inside my dressing gown (Which is a good thing, because I would LITERALLY DIE), and, as you can see from the photos in this post, I still take my child to the beach, and do my very best not to pass on my fear to him. He thinks crabs are “cute”. I’d really hate to see something he considers “ugly”…

These days, even the nightmares seem to have subsided somewhat: I can’t actually remember the last time I woke up my husband with the hysterical news that there was a crab in the bed with us, although I know for sure that the next time I take a holiday near the beach, it’ll all come flooding back. So, it’s fine. I’m fine. Just… don’t try to show me any photos of crabs, I’m begging you…

Anyone else out there suffer from kabourophobia? Want to start a support group?

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • mary


    I suffer from a worm/caterpillar/larvae phobia, I can’t recall where it started but since I was a small child, even before I even knew what a caterpillar was, I was disgusted by the mere sight of them lol. I had to cover their photos in my children books. I was so scared that when other kids would dig for worms I would put on a facade of indifference just in the chance that the bullies wouldn’t learn I had that phobia and wouldn’t use it to scare me by putting worms in my school bag or something. I don’t know if this means that it’s not a real phobia, or it just means I was so scared I entered into “surviving mode” and did the unthinkable (look at the worms being dug out and feign indifference) to avoid bigger “scares” in the future… Lol, anyways, I’m so glad it’s worms and not spiders for me, spiders are much more common and the other day I sfound a huge one crawling on my arm out of nowhere… I was just mildly amused and so glad I didn’t have aracnophobia lol.

    September 22, 2021
  • D


    The cruelest thing is when friends or family members use your fear for their amusement.
    For me, it’s animatronics. Just typing this out makes me nauseous.

    September 22, 2021
  • Myra+Boyle


    Darren had a fascination for all kinds of creepy crawly things as a kid, but that changed when in his first term at uni and living in a tiny student’s room . So 18, alone and away from home for the first time (apart from family visits). One night he woke to a monstrous spider crawling over his face – result arachnophobia. Liz’s uncle thought it was funny to give him a red-back spider (deadly) as a housewarming gift . He dropped the little jar it was in and they spent the rest of the day looking for it before it but and killed someone. Now however, he was able to move a child’s hand sized wolf spider from his stairwell as it was crawling nearer to his children’s height. Successful phobia treatment is to protect your kids

    September 22, 2021
  • Miss Kitty


    I have a fear of the underwater, shipwrecks in particular but anything in the sea generally. I can’t even swim in a pool that is painted a dark colour, it looks too much like the sea. And yes I do go paddling in the ocean, but you will never ever ever get me snorkelling. Like you I don’t really know when it started, I remember looking at books of the Titanic etc quite happily when I was a kid, now even the thought of it makes me want to scrub my brain. I can quite happily sit and listen to a movie about sharks or something like that, but I will sit there with my eyes shut. My family mocks me for it, I don’t think they completely realise just how terrifying it is for me. Just thinking about it now is making me feel a bit sick. But like you I have never had any inclination to do anything about the phobia, because it’s not really affecting my everyday life, thank goodness. If I had to get a phobia, I picked a fairly safe one. As long as I’m never on a sinking boat, because I will literally die of horror before I get to the water!

    September 23, 2021
      • April


        Oh, god. I can relate. I have a strong fear towards it. I can’t really express how terrifying it is for me seeing one. I have these thoughts that maybe in my past life I died because of cancer. I’m just trying to find reasons why I am scared so much of crabs.

        March 13, 2022
  • Monikia


    @Miss Kitty I) suffer from thalassophobia – last time I thought it would be “safe” to enter a pool I had to leave it with a panic attack (the tiled/painted lines on the ground were to terrifiying) and looking at underwater pictures with divers e.g. makes my heart go funny. I blame Jaws for my fear/phobia of sharks. I also can’t cope with real/imaginary snakes – so a lot of problem there 🙂

    September 23, 2021
    • Miss Kitty


      Interesting to hear from someone else who has the same thing, I have never heard of anyone else having it! And also interesting to know it has a name, I have never bothered to look it up before 🙂 My family thinks I am completely crazy, so nice to know I’m not the only one! It’s a funny thing how even though it sounds like the same thing, it can manifest in different ways. I am not afraid of going to the beach at all, only of deep water. And I am not afraid of the animals in the water at all (mostly ????). I think maybe it’s more to do with the large dark areas of water where you can’t see what is there, and for some reason specifically shipwrecks are my big fears ???? I can swim in a pool alright, as long as it’s not painted a dark colour and I can see the bottom OK.

      September 25, 2021
  • Moni


    Saligarophobia here – phobia of snails and slugs. I KNOW they won’t attack me, they won’t follow me, and even if they did I could easily outrun or kill them. Still they give me the creeps.
    And I agree with the posters above, I can’t even look at pictures, and I’m not able to touch even the cutest plush snail – at least not at the belly.

    September 23, 2021
  • Charlotte Fry


    Just read this blog from a couple of months ago and yes deffo to a crab phobic support group! I have always been told that my phobia of crabs is weird and irrational (uh,doh – it’s a phobia) but I feel the same as you! I have been scared of them since I was little too but don’t know why, except they are creepy buggers! My worst holiday was in Jamaica where they were everywhere!!! Now I am strictly a city break kind of girl. Solidarity to you and others with this phobia! Xxx

    November 7, 2021
  • Ellie


    i’m scared of crabs too! one time at myrtle beach when I went with just my mom (I usually went with friends) I went towards the sea and was building sand castles when these TERRIFYING crabs with soft shells that didn’t feel normal were washed out of the waves and some of them were already dead! and i was also scared of throwing up into the water because the waves were really big and i was really lazy (that hasn’t changed much btw) so i got a lot of salt water in my mouth. and since then i’ve been afraid of crabs AND microbes due to seeing photos of dust mites under a microscope not much later.

    December 9, 2021
    • Ellie


      also it possibly could have started with me not liking how anglerfish look. i have known about anglerfish since i was 3. i’ve also developed a fear a very long time ago of the sun, when it becomes a red giant. it scares me to think that earth will look like a worldwide desert, i’m scared of dry places. I’m so glad i don’t live near a desert.

      December 9, 2021
  • Erika Lynne


    I am only a teenager, but I already know that I also have SEVERE Kabourophobia! I have had hysterical, screaming fits over just seeing one a few feet away from me. When I am on the beach and I see one (this is not often because I LOATHE the beach) I just have this overwhelming urge to run from it as fast as I can. And I will do ANYTHING to get away from it. One of the worst incidents occurred when I was peacefully reading a book on the beach while my family was down by the water. I look up to see this HUGE crab only a foot away from me. I started screaming bloody murder! I was balanced with one foot on each arm of my beach chair, sobbing uncontrollably. I started hyperventilating so much I was seeing stars and I was on the verge of passing out. My mom sprinted over to see why I was screaming and I begged her to carry me somewhere, ANYWHERE, even though I knew she couldn’t. And even after my brother scooped it up in a bucket and carried it all the way down the beach, I still couldn’t relax for HOURS. My heart was still racing and my eyes wouldn’t stop darting around frantically. Finally, the stress was too much to handle and I just left. I’ve tried to explain this to my friends, but none of them take me seriously because they too confuse the word “fear” and “phobia.” But this is a very serious thing, and I wish more people were aware of it. So thank you for sharing your story! I am glad to see that I am not the only one who suffers from this.

    February 14, 2022
  • Desiree


    THIS! I never realized how crappy it is to live with a real phobia until i had one. ive always been kind of scared of crabs, but when i was 17 or 18 i was going through some really hard times and my anxieties manifested in recurring dreams that a beach crab was chasing me around my house like a killer hunting me down. after so many of them, i figured out that i had developed a real debilitating fear of crabs. My moms friends think its cute to tag me in photos, videos, and gifs of crabs on facebook and I nearly have a panic attack every time. I finally had to put my foot down and make a general statement to STOP, because its not funny or cute. its scary. to me. terrifying actually. im glad im not alone though… oddly enough i dont really have much of a fear of other crustaceans. i love crawfish and lobster doesnt freak me out. but anything having to do with crabs? out of. the. question. which sucks, cuz i LOVE the beach, but im always terrified one is gonna sneak up on me. it feels a little better knowing other people can relate and im not just crazy.

    February 27, 2022
  • Amalia Spann


    Reading this article I’ve never felt so validated. I live in the Caribbean, (worse, very close to a beach) so growing up I’ve always seen crabs in and around the yard, occasionally in the house. I’m not sure what exactly started the phobia, probably a normal fear that worsened with anxiety as I grew older or maybe that one dream I had as a child of a crab opening a mouth of razor sharp teeth and chomping down on my hand (then waking up with indents on my hand). Regardless I’m pretty much the same way now, I can even look at a photo or hear a story about crabs… even my friends don’t mention them around me because I get so paranoid and feel like one is gonna pop up. I once stayed up an entire night in a full blown panic attack because of an imaginary crab in my room. Due to the weather patterns where I’m from there’s been so many baby crabs in my house recently and I’ve had to call for my parents to get rid of them each time (after much screaming and crying of course) and I feel like I’m living in constant anxiety that I’m going to find one wherever I turn. Hopefully I can find some help to overcome this fear in the future, but for now I’ll avoid everything to do with them. A support group is much needed lol.

    It’s also insane that when you google “fear of crabs” the first thing that pops up are pictures of crabs???

    August 15, 2022
    • Troye L-D


      Right?? The last thing I want to see is a giant picture of a crab!

      May 1, 2023
  • Terry


    I am so glad that I am not the only one. I’m petrified of Crabs and pretty much any crustaceans. I’ve been this way since I was about 5 years old. I used to have dreams about them being under my bed… a horribly spikey legged hell fiend crab army carrying me off to somewhere absolutely horrific.
    I’m 40 now and it’s really not much better, despite all the video clips and pictures my friends decide to send me.

    September 1, 2022
  • Danielle Kojic


    Hi Amber,

    I came across your site doing some research on crab phobias as my 12 year old daughter has developed one.

    To the point that it is difficult for others to understand and terrifying for her.

    My fear is that she will miss out on things in life because of this phobia. She is also very uncomfortable now with bugs and would run under than be in the path of a bee.

    She has also started becoming overwhelmed around too many people, but we do live in NYC so this is easier tpn understand.

    In terms of crabs though, a couple of years ago a younger child chased her with a little crab. There was a lot of squealing going on and at first we though my daughter was playing with the younger child. When she stopped running however we all saw that she was terrified and in tears. I am guess this incident triggered the phobia.

    I don’t think the pandemic helped with my daughter’s overall feelings of anxiety as she really associated home as her safe place. So now she does not really want to go places like public pools as there are too many people. And she will definitely not walk on a beach yet alone go in the waves.

    I am concerned she will miss out on a lot of fun in life. And obviously don’t want to force her to do anything for fear of re-traumatising her.

    It is difficult at times for me to watch my child not do things I imagine are so much fun for other kids. Like she is missing out on some of the best parts of childhood. She is also an only child and I wonder if she were on the beach with another family with kids if she would forgot her fears if the joy of being around friends was able to distract her. Going to the beach with your old mum maybe not so fun and I am like her safety net. She clings to me when she gets fearful. Though now she also has very adverse reactions to other people’s feet and will no longer hold my hand but grab my wrist.

    This also means that I don’t really get to go to the beach for long when on holidays as she does not want to be alone and I love the beach. Sounds selfish I know but severe phobias do affect everyone around you. Especially when there starts to be multiple phobias. So I understand your parents feelings of guilt. Trying to be supportive and having a lot of patience is not always my strong point.

    But loved discovering your article as I am trying to understand more and work out how best to support my child. Her doctor did recommend CBT but my daughter is also exceptionally smart and has done her own research. There is no way in hell she wants to do any sort of exposure therapy. She would rather live her where crabs do not dwell. A friend suggested hypnotherapy to work with the subconscious….

    September 2, 2022
  • Emily


    I know this post is from a long time ago so it might be a bit late to write a comment here- but I thought I would share my story.
    I came across this post by looking up phobias of crabs.
    Google did freak me out a bit when I first googled this- as the first thing I saw when I looked this up- was a photo of a crab!
    I can relate so much to all your stories.
    I have had this phobia since I was about 8.
    I was on holiday in Spain with my dad and siblings and we took a boat out to the sea to really deep waters.
    We found this kind of reef or pile of rocks or something- but we were able to stand on it at points.
    So we got out and were swimming- when all of a sudden something grabbed hold of my foot and started crushing it!
    It felt like something was eating my whole foot and was so painful.
    My brother got his goggles on and saw that a giant crab had gotten a hold of my foot and was pinching it.
    He had to swim down and hit it a few times to get it off me.
    I was terrified!
    This fear then went on and got worse when I was about 10 and my family and I were on holiday at the beach on the Isle of Wight.
    I was sunbathing on my front having a lovely relaxing time- when my 3 brothers decided to play a trick on me.
    They got a crab out of the sea and showed it to me then put it on my bare back as I was lying there.
    I was so terrified I completely froze, screamed the place down, then weed myself- how embarrassing!
    Since then I have had nightmares and visions of crabs in my bed at night, in the toilet climbing up the toilet bowl as I am sitting on it, in the swimming pool, pretty much everywhere.
    It wasn’t helped by going on holiday to the Caribbean when I was 20.
    It was lovely and not a crab in sight when we first got there. So I was having a wonderful time.
    Then one day I was sunbathing on the beach a little late into the afternoon/ early evening. When suddenly all around me these ghost looking see-through crabs started coming out of the sand and running to the sea.
    I was petrified!
    I stared screaming and my sister came running and got me up, grabbed my things and we sprinted to the hotel and to safety.
    I have never forgotten these experiences- and even though I am 40 now I still have this irrational fear/ phobia of crabs.
    I cannot even look at a photo of one!
    Thank you to everyone who has shared their stories here- I honestly believed i was the only person who suffered from this!
    It is comforting to know that I am not alone.

    December 18, 2022
  • Catherine


    Oh my gosh, I am not alone! I am terrified of crabs to the point that I won’t go to the beach or any water where they can be found. I can’t look at pictures of them or see them on TV…I just can’t. I worked in a library and any books that came in about crabs would be left for someone else to put away. I’m sorry you share the phobia but I’m glad to see I’m not alone.

    May 22, 2023
  • Marjolein


    I have exactly this! All the stories you write are so relatable. Including that dream about there being a crab in your bed. OMG I’ve literally had that so often! Also my family making fun of me at the beach. I grew up by the seaside, so we were at the beach all the time and my brother used to go crabbing. I’ve also been known for declining dinner invitations because I saw lobster on the menu as a speciality dish and being afraid people at the table would order it. Now I really want to see the little mermaid live action film, but I had to stop the trailer because Sebastian just looks way too realistic. Although I do love the rest of the film, so I’m now actively confronting myself with it and trying graded exposure. I’m a therapist so I’m trained in delivering it. I’ve been sitting there looking at pictures of cartoony crabs and slowly building them up to more realistic ones. Although I’m still not ready for seeing real crabs. Thanks for sharing your story.

    June 9, 2023
  • Mandy


    Wow! I’m not the only one! I was doing a search on crab phobia and this blog post popped up. What a relief to find other people who have the unfortunate distinction of preferring to run through a brick wall than get within touching distance of a crab.

    My idiot parents were instrumental in helping me develop a crab phobia. They managed to turn what was a dislike of crabs into an extreme fear. Fishing for crabs, hunting for them in rock pools and releasing them back into the sea was an integral part of my childhood holidays. I never liked them, but as a small child I could pick them up and fish for them without too much issue. The problem started when i was around 7 and l picked one up on the beach and it got me in the palm of my hand with it’s horrible claw, hung on and would not let go. I just remember screaming and spinning around trying to fling it off. Eventually It flew off, but the damage was done.

    I probably would have gotten over it eventually, but the phobia really came to be when my idiot parents realised that I was now afraid of crabs and decided to find it funny to “play” with that fear.

    They used to chase me and my sister with crab claws and dead crabs. Sometimes live ones too. They used to tell us that they would put crab claws in our beds whilst we slept and generally just spring a crab claw on us at random intervals and watch us scream. One time My dad picked up a dead crab (though we didn’t know that at the time) on a shovel and flung it at my sister and me who were sat on the beach. We both panicked so much that we scrambled to our feet and ran straight into each other in our attempts to flee, bashing our heads against each other.

    That’s where the panic really started to take hold. I stopped going in the sea. Couldn’t go in a rock pool unless there was a rock to stand on (i was terrified crabs would come out from under the sand and grab my feet).

    I tried explaining to my parents that I was afraid of crabs and to stop with the tormenting. But they just said “I have always loved fishing for crabs and have an active imagination” so therefore I can’t possibly be afraid of them?

    I’ve had the crab nightmares, especially about waking up finding them in my bed or walking all over me. I’ve had panic attacks in the supermarket when I’ve seen them on the fish counter. I jump when i see a picture of them or see something about them on the TV. The fear has spread onto lobsters and cray fish. Even scorpions…

    My idiot father managed to outdo himself a couple of years ago in front of the extended family when we got onto talking about my crab phobia. He asked me to hold out my hand and i said “do you have a crab claw in that hand?” he said “no”. He lied… I had a panic attack and ran into a wall, then into my husband who looked at him like he was going to kill him.

    I’ve tried exposing myself more to crabs. Trying to force myself to look at pictures and get one step closer to the fish counter. It’s slow going. I doubt I’ll ever love them. But i want to be ok enough around them that i don’t pass the phobia onto my child.

    March 23, 2024