Performance data for the claws of six sympatric species of Cancer crabs confirmed a puzzling pattern reported previously for two other decapod crustaceans (stone crabs, Menippe mercenaria, and lobsters, Homarus americanus): Although biting forces increased, maximum muscle stresses (force per unit area) declined with increasing claw size. The negative allometry of muscle stress and the stress at a given claw size were fairly consistent within and among Cancer species despite significant differences in adult body size and relative claw size, but were not consistent among decapod genera. Therefore, claw height can be used as a reliable predictor of maximum biting force for the genus Cancer, but must be used with caution as a predictor of maximum biting force in wider evolutionary and biogeographical comparisons of decapods. The decline in maximum muscle stress with increasing claw size in Cancer crabs contrasts with the pattern in several other claw traits. Significantly, three traits that affect maximal biting force increased intraspecifically with increasing claw size: relative claw size, mechanical advantage, and sarcomere length of the closer muscle. Closer apodeme area and angle of pinnation of the closer muscle fibers varied isometrically with claw size. The concordant behavior of these traits suggests selection for higher biting forces in larger crabs. The contrast between the size dependence of muscle stress (negative allometry) and the remaining claw traits (isometry or positive allometry) strongly suggests that an as yet unidentified constraint impairs muscle performance in larger claws. The negative allometry of muscle stress in two distantly related taxa (stone crabs and lobsters) further suggests this constraint may be widespread in decapod crustaceans. The implications of this performance constraint for the evolution of claw size and the "arms-race" between decapod predators and their hard-shelled prey is discussed.