Coconut crabs

What a weird and wonderful world we live in. Why people insist on making up aliens and ghosts amazes me when the nutty stuff that nature provides knocks them into a cocked hat.

At the top of my list for amazing creatures is the coconut crab.

Coconut crab

I first came across them in Oliver Sacks’ “island of the colour blind” Where he describes his first encounter on the pacific island of Rota. Seeing a pile of coconut shells abandoned on the ground, and thinking it the work of lazy tourists he asks his guide…

“Who brought these shells here? ‘crabs’ he said. Seeing my confusion, he elaborated. ‘These large cocnut crabs come in, the cocnut trees are over there.’ He gestured towards the beach a few hundred yards away, where we could just see a grove of palm trees. ‘The crabs know they will be disturbed if they eat them by the beach, so they bring them over here to eat.’

So these are clearly big crabs, capable of dragging and smashing open a coconut.

Darwin described them in the notes from his voyage on the beagle.

I have before alluded to a crab which lives on the cocoa-nuts; it is very common on all parts of the dry land, and grows to a monstrous size. It is closely allied or identical with Birgos latro. This crab has its front pair of legs terminated by very strong and heavy pincers, and the last pair by others which are narrow and weak. It would at first be thought quite impossible for a crab to open a strong cocoa-nut covered with the husk ; but Mr. Liesk assures me he has repeatedly seen the operation effected. The crab begins by tearing the husk, fibre by fibre, and always from that end under which the three eye holes are situated; when this is completed, the crab commences hammering with its heavy claws on one of these eye holes, till an opening is made. Then turning round its body, by the aid of its posterior and narrow pair of pincers, it extracts the white albuminous substance. 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. ………. It has been stated by some authors that the Birgos latro crawls up the cocoa-nut trees for the purpose of stealing the nuts: I very much doubt the possibility of this; but with the Pandanus* the task would be very much easier. I understood from Mr. Liesk that on these islands the Birgos lives only on the nuts which fall to the ground.”

In fact these wonderful creatures do actually climb trees, cut down cocnouts to tear open and eat. Now that’s a nice niche to exploit if you can.

refs; The complete works of Charles Darwin Online

The island of the colour-blind  Oliver Sacks  (1996)  Picador

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4 Responses to Coconut crabs

  1. I agree. The coconut crab looks fantastic. Yep why all this fuss about unknown aliens, ghosts and conspiracy theories about princess Dianna, Madeline Mcann when there is all this stuff on earth we know nothing about. The oceans have hardly been explored. there are animals and plants going Dodo everyday and know one even knows what they do. Yep more of this because tv and radio concentrate on the serengeti of lions and zebra and ignore most of the world of all the many other things around us.

  2. Pingback: The Wow Moment | It's those little things…..

  3. Joe Row says:

    I’ve met many of these coconut crabs while on the island of Guam in the early 1960’s.
    I was in the Navy, had lots of time to boonie stomp and came across the now extinct bird
    of paradise and small deer. The tree snake or brown snake has decimated the island of
    many of its native inhabitants. The coconut crab is still there and they do climb the coconut
    tree to retrieve the coconut if they don’t find what they want on the ground. I met several
    while in the top of the tree and they are dangerous as they have no fear of man. The can
    pinch your finger off if your stupid enough to play around with them.

  4. Pingback: What’s your crab? | It's those little things…..

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