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Coconut Crab

October 17, 2010

Land Crab

The Coconut Crab

the largest land-living arthropod in the world

The coconut crab, Birgus latro, is the largest land-living arthropod in the world, and is probably at the upper limit of how big terrestrial animals with exoskeletons can become in today’s atmosphere. The species inhabits the coastal forest regions of many Indo-Pacific islands, although localized extinction has occurred where the crab is sympatric with man. Generally nocturnal, they remain hidden during the day and emerge only on some nights to forage. Their body is divided into four regions; the cephalic lobe, forepart, trunk, and opisthosoma. It is a highly apomorphic hermit crab and is known for its ability to crack coconuts with its strong pincers to eat the contents. It is the only species of the genus Birgus.
The coconut crab climbs trees to eat coconuts or fruit, to escape the heat or to escape predators. It is a common perception that the coconut crab cuts the coconuts from the tree to eat them on the ground (hence the German name Palmendieb, which literally means “palm thief”, and the Dutch klapperdief). The crab can take a coconut from the ground and cut it to a husk nut, take it with its claw, climb up a tree ten metres high and drop the husk nut, to access the content inside. Coconut crabs cut holes into coconuts with their strong claws and eat the contents; this behavior is unique in the animal kingdom.
The coconut crab is eaten by Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders and is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, with a taste similar to lobster and crab meat. The most prized parts are the eggs inside the female coconut crab and the fat in the abdomen. Coconut crabs can be cooked like other large crustaceans, by boiling or steaming.


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