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As its name suggests, the coconut crab is named after the food that it eats. It will use uts two robust claws to husk the nut, pound it against a rock until it opens and then consume the tasty flesh inside. This process may take two days.
Photo: Chris Johnson

February 23, 2001
Coconut Crab
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Nuguria Island Group in Eastern Papua New Guinea. While being forced to shelter from a monsoon for two days behind Nugarba Atoll, we inadvertently managed to cause substantial interest and curiosity among some of the local Polynesian population inhabiting this isolated atoll. We were undoubtedly a rare sight, vessels seldom visit these islands.

It didn't take long for an individual, a young man, to venture out in his canoe to check out this strange white yacht. He told us his name was Vince and he proudly showed us his handcrafted canoe and racing paddle. We talked for a while, offered him a cold drink, some food and a few fishing lures. He asked us what he could trade with us in return. We told him some fresh fruit and perhaps one or two lobsters would be very much appreciated.

Vince returned the following morning with several coconuts, fish and something most unexpected, a large blue coconut crab. Over the past five months in the islands of the equatorial pacific, we have searched in vain for just a glimpse of this rare and highly prized crustacean, but to no avail. These large crabs have been heavily exploited in most of the western pacific. But here it was, wrapped in coconut palm fronds to secure the two enormous and powerful claws, quite capable of crushing bone, writhing and squirming indignantly on our aft deck. In Christmas Island, we were told stories of captive crabs that had bent steel bars with their claws in an effort to escape the dinner plate.

We graciously accepted this generous gift, fully intending to release the unwilling captive later in the day. But for now, we had an incredible opportunity to observe this fascinating creature. The coconut is in fact the largest in the hermit crab family. Having no need to carry a portable dwelling, this hermit has developed a permanent hard plated shell, which can grow to an astonishing three feet across. As its name suggests, this crab is named after the food that it eats. Although some of this species prefer the taste of the ripe pandanus fruit, we can be sure that our crab is a coconut consumer, his diet is reflected in his exquisite colorings of blues, mauves and lavenders. A crab preferring pandanus is a rich orange color.

After climbing a tree and selecting a ripe coconut, the crab cuts it off, letting it fall to the ground. It will then descend the tree, locate its prize and use its two robust claws to husk the nut. The crab will then pound it repeatedly against a rock until it breaks open, revealing the tasty flesh inside. The entire process may take the tenacious crab two whole days.

It is difficult to imagine such a bold creature with no natural enemies in its adult form, needing protection. However, it is cursed with a flesh most delectable to the human pellet, as are many members of the crustacean family, and is still heavily sought after. The severe reduction in numbers has not reduced their cultural value and they are still a desirable source of nutrition in most of Micronesia. The pressure on these animals continues to escalate with human populations exploding on many of these comparatively small islands. Several hundred of these vulnerable crabs were consumed by tourists, dignitaries and Government officials in just one sitting during the millennium celebrations on Caroline Island, the first Island to see the sun rise at the dawn of the new century. The coconut crab has been unable to sustain its numbers in the face of such an assault and sadly, is now listed as an endangered species.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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