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29 December 2010 / Liz Johns

Holy Coconut, Is That A Spider Or A Crab?

Coconut Crab Climbing a Tree

If you were walking along a white sandy island beach and saw THAT clinging to a palm tree up ahead, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the creepiest, giant spider you’d ever seen. In fact, it’s not a spider, it’s a humble hermit crab. You know, one of those creatures you look for under rocks in warm pools of sea water. Ok, not quite, you’d hardly be able to lift the rock that this magnificent sea beastie was hiding under, but it is, nevertheless, a crab.

Let me Introduce you to the Coconut Crab

What a sweet-sounding name for a giant sand-scuttling creature. But they’re not called that because they like to laze around on tropical beaches, no, they’re so-called because they can crush a coconut in their front pincers. (And I have difficulty opening a coconut with a hammer!)

The Coconut Crab has a claw span of around 50 cm and can be as long as 1 metre. One pair of its legs are adapted to enable it to climb trees with relative ease. The Coconut Crab lives near water, but tries not to get its pincers wet too often as it cannot swim. Its party piece is lifting heavy coconuts, removing the husk with large, front claws then cracking open the shell. It uses its small back pincers to dig the flesh from the coconut and pass it to its mouth. They eat mainly fruit, plus other organic bits and pieces they find lying around. They’re also called Robber crabs as they steal food from each other and hide it in their own burrows in the sand.

I think this is as curious a case of instinct as ever I heard of, and likewise of adaptation in structure between two objects apparently so remote from each other in the scheme of nature as a crab and a cocoa-nut tree. [Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle.]

Where Coconut Crabs Live

Am I Going to Find a Coconut Crab on my Local Beach?

You will if you live on one of the many islands in the Indo-Pacific, but otherwise, it’s highly unlikely. The habitat of the Coconut Crab is widespread, but the species is threatened with extinction due to people eating far too many of them. Conservation action is underway to limit and control the extent of Coconut Crab fishing in various countries, although it is proving difficult in some cases due to the remoteness of the islands.

Do Coconut Crabs Attack Other Animals?


At this point, I hope you’re not squeamish, because I’ve decided to post a photograph of a Coconut Crab eating a small dog. Don’t look if you’re of a delicate nature.





Ha! Do you honestly think I’d do something like that? Actually, apart from the odd nip on the toe (which would be very painful), there have never been any reports of Coconut Crabs attacking people or other animals. Phew, it’s safe to go back on the beach.

And Finally

While we’re on the subject of crustaceans, before I go I’d like to show you this. I found this pic whilst researching on the Net. It comes from Japan (‘Only in Japan’), I have no reference as to where it originally came from, but it seems like a tv presenter is comparing the size of a giant crustacean to a kitten. A kitten, yes, obviously. How else would you measure a crustacean? Kitten got the last bite I see.

What the . . ?


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