Ah the coconut crab. Undoubtedly one of my favourite animals on this Earth. I don’t really have any fun stories of how I got to know about the coconut crab, except that one of my professors mentioned them in class and I went home and looked them up. They are apparently super awesomely cool. Asides from being very beautifully coloured and having crazy looking… well, lets be honest, everything, coconut crabs are the biggest land arthropods (ie. Insects, arachnids and crustaceans) on earth. And by big, I mean BIG. I mean, you may think its a long way down the road to the chemists, but that’s just peanuts to coconut crabs. They can grow up to nine pounds, which may sound small, but consider that the coconut crab has its skeleton on the outside of it’s body. That shell has to support all of the crabs weight. And they can get a leg span of over three feet. Just imagine strolling down a sunny tropical beach with a warm sea breeze playfully dancing through your hair when WHAM. A three foot mass of shell and legs and very, very large pincers falls to the ground beside you. Because they do that. They climb coconut trees and then fall to the ground to get down. They can survive falls of up to 4.5 meters.

Such pretty colours! Image by Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coconut crabs are pretty amazing creatures. They spend their entire adult lives out of water, and to do this they need to have some mechanism of breathing. Most crabs have gills, which don’t work too well out of water. The coconut crab, however, has evolved a modified set of gills called branchiostegal lungs. This organ acts in a way like gills, except it absorbs oxygen from the air, instead of the water. Branchiostegal lungs are thought to be an evolutionary step between gills and lungs, which means the coconut crab is kind of a living evolutionary link between land dwelling animals and our fishy ancestors.

Another cool fact about the coconut crab: they have an amazing sense of smell. Bananas, coconuts and rotting meat all attract coconut crabs, who can locate potential food sources from large distances. Apparently this attraction to rotting flesh is so strong that some people believe coconut crabs are responsible for Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. According to Richard Gillespie, who’s spent a long time looking for Amelia (which really seems kind of pointless to me. The coolest part about her is that she disappeared. If we find her then the mystery and allure is all gone.), coconut crabs took parts of Earhart’s body and ate them, then stored the bones in their burrows. And that’s why no one ever found her whole skeleton. If you ask me, it seems a little far fetched, but who knows. But even the thought of giant, three foot crustaceans wandering off with parts of a rotting body adds another point to the coconut crab’s awesomeness, at least in my books.

A screenshot from the anime One Piece.

One more thing about coconut crabs before I wrap this up. They are also known as robber crabs. There are two reasons I’ve read for this, one much more likely than the other, but way less cool. The first is that coconut crabs will often steal burrows from other, smaller coconut crabs. A very plausible reason. The second, extremely amazing reason is that coconut crabs have been reported to have a fascination with shiny objects, so much so that there are anecdotes of crabs sneaking into peoples homes and making off with silverware and other objects. I really, really hope the second one is true. Can you imagine walking into your kitchen to see a giant crab holding some of your forks and knives? Of course, then the crab would get a sheepish grin on its face and scuttle away in glee. I picture it something like this (but on land, of course):

Coconut crabs really are the coolest. I think it would be really neat to have one as a pet. Maybe it would make a good guard animal. Who knows. All I do know is that I love these giant fellows. A lot.

Cover image by DIAC images, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons