When Charles Darwin he saw it for the first time in the Cocos Islands – during his famous scientific voyage along the Beagle – he described it as “monstrous”. And is not for less. The coconut crab (Birgus latro) looks like a bug escaped from the island of Jurassic Park, but it is a kind of real crustacean. It is the heaviest terrestrial arthropod in the world – there is a longer one, the Japanese giant crab – and it lives on different islands in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific, although its largest population is concentrated in the christmas island (belonging to Australia).
Given its enormous size – it usually weighs more than four kilos and measures around one meter – it is a well-known animal on the islands where it lives, and is considered a delicacy to which they are also attributed aphrodisiac properties.
Taste similar to Lobster or the lobster, but somewhat more fatty and with a certain coconut flavor, it is cooked boiled or steamed, and is the protagonist of a great variety of local recipes. But to hunt it you have to have them well on.
The crab gets its name from its fondness for coconuts and is able to climb trees to get hold of them: it is also the only animal that manages to open the fruit, thanks to its strong clamps, with which can lift a weight of up to 28 kilograms. But these are not enough for it and it is capable of devouring any type of organic matter, be it corpses, sea turtles, rats and even large birds. It is not surprising, therefore, that hunting it is not too easy.
Hunting the crab
“You have to grab them just behind the head, because if you don’t, you can lose a finger,” he explains to the magazine. Munchies Stan, one of the 300 residents of the small Atafu island -In the Tokelau archipelago, belonging to New Zealand. “Their fleshy claws are strong enough to break open coconuts, so they can also cut through the bone.”
The animal does not go around with little girls, and is known to be persistent in its claws: if it grabs you, it won’t let go. The Micronesians, however, have a trick in case of an accident, and that is to hit it in the soft parts of the abdomen, causing them pain and forcing them to release their prey.
To make matters worse, during the day they usually hide in burrows, so it’s easier to catch them at night.
An endangered species
Given the quality of its meat –and what spreads– the coconut crab has been hunted intensively and on heavily populated islands it is on the brink of extinction or has disappeared altogether. In 1981, the animal entered the red list of vulnerable species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but at present the data on its presence are deficient.
It is generally considered that the population is stable and large on some islands, but rare on others. Its habitat extends over many countries, and autonomous areas with peculiar laws, and it is not always easy to know whether or not its capture is prohibited. Yes indeed, it is not traded with him: If you want to try it, you have to visit these islands and get hunted one (or someone hunt it for you). They also serve it in a few (few) local restaurants.
Images | Wendy Cover-NOAA / Allen Shimada-NOAA-NMFS-OST
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