When I was a kid, I used to catch crabs with a friend and sell them to neighbours for $3 a pop. They were undersized and, by adult standards, both inedible and illegal. But we sold them every tiny little crab we caught, and because they were nice neighbours, they pretended they were going to eat them all. Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Pennell.
Mr. and Mrs. Pennell also had a cat named Blackie. They’re lucky we got our crabs from Gonzales Beach and not from a variety of islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, because at some point, we could have sold them a crab that would eat Blackie. Actually.
The coconut crab is the largest terrestrial arthropod in the world. Its leg span can grow up to three feet. Think about that: if you’re a six-foot-person, like me and a lot of other totally average-sized people, that crab turned on its side would be up to your waist.
Also known as the robber crab – because it steals shit like pots and pans all the time – the coconut crab takes around a 120 years to reach full size. Here’s what sucks: since we’ve moved into its habitat like the lecherous virus that humans act like, we’ve brought all sorts of creatures in that kill them well before they hit the ripe old age of full-size-ed-ness.
Even though it grows slowly, the coconut crab still outgrows its clothes every year. But when you and I would give our clothes to our annoying little brother, the coconut crab retreats into a burrow, whips off his shell, and eats it. Picture yourself sitting in a dark closet eating your own pants. You’re trying to do it as quickly as possible, because underneath that armor, you’re just a little pink sensitive munchkin. Sounds like you, bully from highschool.
But you’re eating your pants for a pretty good reason: you’re getting so freaking big that you actually need the nutrients in your pants to survive. “In a water environment you get support from the water that allows you to move with a much heavier shell,” said ecologist Michelle Drew on Wired. “But on land, gravity will play a huge role on how you can move and how heavy you can get. [Coconut crabs] are probably at the limits of what is sustainable given gravity, the weight of the shell, and resources available to them in terms of food and water.”
Since the coconut crab grows fast enough to feel it necessary to eat its own clothes, it also eats pretty much anything else. Fruit, vegetables, dead stuff, even other crabs. There are also reports that it likes chickens. And cats. Seriously, there are reports that kittens have been eaten. Kittens. Ouch, my heart.
But the cats and chickens aren’t really a staple of the coconut crab. Guess what is? Yup, you got it: blueberry muffins. Coconut crabs just love blueberry muffins. Nah, they love coconuts. Why would you think they love blueberry muffins? No one like blueberry muffins. Just the fact that they know they love coconuts is a testament to their ridiculous pincer strength. I can’t even open a coconut without shattering it like a pane of glass and getting coconut milk all over everything within a fifty-foot radius, and I have thumbs and a large brain. But these not-so-little guys will spend however long it takes to get inside the husk using both pincer strength and teamwork. Once they get close, they use their longest leg to stab a hole through the eyes of the coconut, and then commence Operation Nut Smash.
Although they’re crabs, and we usually equate crabs to the ocean and the painful (but often entertaining) loss of toenails, coconut crabs only spend a short time actually in the water. Once they reach a certain size, they’d sink and drown, because they weigh as much as a baby filled with rocks. They do a bit of wading here and there, though – but only to release their eggs. Then they scamper back to the safety of their ridiculous bulk and their eternal search for edible kittens.
It’s sad, though, that these huge, ancient creatures are basically not capable of reaching their full size. Because of simple human intervention – just our introduction is enough – we’ve basically shortened the lifespan of an entire species. Even if it’s a horrible, creepy, giant monster species, it’s probably one of the most interesting things that we’re killing. Hurray for us.