2014 may go down as the year of the giant killer crabs. First, a massive crab dubbed Crabzilla was spotted in a shallow harbor off the coast of Whitstable, England. Then the year ended with the capture of a giant coconut crab walking down a street in Hawaii – the first sighting of this invasive species in Hawaii since 1989.
Holly Cantere of Moanalua, a Honolulu suburb, saw the 4.8 pound crustacean doing a crab walk down Salt Lake Boulevard on December 21st. With the help of a friend, she managed to catch it and turn it over to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture which has it quarantined until it can determine where this coconut crab came from and if it brought any friends.
Coconut crabs (Birgus latro), also known as robber crabs or palm thieves, are the largest land anthropods in the world, reaching up to 9 pounds (4.1 kg) in weight and over three feet long (1 m) from leg to leg. Coconut crabs are native to many Pacific and Indian Ocean islands (Samoa, Guam and Christmas Island to name a few) but not Hawaii.
Why the fuss about seeing one near Honolulu? While not dangerous to humans, coconut crabs can be devastating to native plants and birds, not to mention coconuts and cats. Robert Toonen, associate researcher at the University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, says they …
… eat any rotting material that falls to the ground, including leaves, coconuts and carrion … if they’re looking for food, they’ll eat anything they can put their claws on. A lot of the native species here are already under threat from other invasive species, so having one more nonnative predator is a concern.
Coconut crabs can crack open their favorite treat – coconuts – with their claws, shred garbage cans looking for food and have been known to kill and eat cats, chickens and other coconut crabs. One theory is that the reason why we’ve never found the remains of Amelia Earhart is because they were eaten by coconut crabs.
So far, no other coconut crabs have been seen in Hawaii. The captured one will eventually be put on display at the Honolulu Zoo. Stand back from the glass if your name is Amelia.