Giant Coconut Crab

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Coconut Crab

Coconut Crab
Netlore Archive: Viral images of the giant coconut crab (Birgus latro), said to be the world's largest land-dwelling arthropod. Viral image

Description: Viral images

Circulating since: 2007

Status: Authentic

Example

Email text from Feb. 6, 2009:

FW: Coconut Crab

This is NOT a crab I would care to meet!

Coconut Crab (Birgus latro) is the largest terrestrial arthropod in the world. It is known for its ability to crack coconuts with its strong pincers in order to eat the contents.

It is sometimes called the robber crab because some coconut crabs are rumored to steal shiny items such as pots and silverware from houses and tents.

The second photo gives you a good idea of how large these crabs are -- a coconut crab is seeking food from a black trashcan.

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Analysis

Giant coconut crab
Apparent source: Flickr user "BlueBec" (circulating via email)

Of the preceding pair of images, the one above has been authenticated (it appears in the photostream of a Flickr user named "BlueBec") but the other, while presumably just as authentic, has yet to be sourced. The EXIF data embedded in the first image indicates the photo was taken on April 4, 2007 with an Olympus digital camera and that it was not subsequently edited.

In short, these scary-looking beasts are real. Coconut crabs (also known as "robber crabs," and by the scientific name Birgus latro) are related to hermit crabs and typically grow to about 16 inches in length, pincer to pincer, though there have been anecdotal reports of specimens double that size. In any case, it is the world's largest species of land crab and reputedly lives as long as 50 years.

An inhabitant of islands throughout the Indian and central Pacific oceans, the coconut crab tends to stick close to beaches, though it can't live in water (in fact, it will drown if submerged for too long a period of time). True to both of its common names, the omnivorous crustacean's preferred food source is the white flesh of fallen coconuts, though it will fall back on whatever sustenance is at hand, including such delicacies as might be scavenged from a garbage can (as in the first image).

Reportedly, coconut crabs have even been known to feast on small animals (chickens, kittens, their fellow crabs, etc.), and a theory has even been floated that the body of lost-at-sea pilot Amelia Earhart was consumed by coconut crabs, and that's why her remains have never been found.

Unfortunately for them, coconut crabs themselves are a sought-after food source for humans, hence their populations have dwindled wherever their habitat has been encroached upon by Homo sapiens. However, it's inadvisable to hunt them for food unless you know what you're doing because their pincers are very large, very powerful, and can cause significant pain. Fair warning!

Sources and Further Reading

Coconut Crab

Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust

Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals

By Ross Piper (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing, 2007)

Coconut Crabs Eat Everything from Kittens to, Maybe, Amelia Earhart

Smithsonian.com, 26 December 2013

Video: Giant Crab Takes Walk Down the Street

MSNBC.com, 2 January 2015