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Animal IQ

Coconut Crabs Are Gigantic Kitten-Eaters

We're not saying coconut crabs were the inspiration for the creature in the 'Alien' franchise, but it wouldn't surprise us if that were true. These freaky-looking crabs are the not only the largest crabs on land, they're the largest land-dwelling arthropods—a phylum that includes spiders, lobsters, and scorpions. Enough with the science talk, let's cut to the gossip: Word on the street is that coconut crabs ate Amelia Earhart. Let us explain...

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Holy Crab!

Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) are relatively mysterious (adding to the fear factor?). The International Union for Conservation of Nature classified this type of hermit crab as Data Deficient, meaning exactly what it seems. There are some things we do know, however: These crabs can grow up to 3 feet across and weigh as much as an Italian greyhound (up to 9 lbs). They burrow in the dirt or sand, hiding in their little crab caves until nighttime when they venture out for a midnight feast. Surprise—these omnivores eat coconuts (their huge claws are powerful enough to whack them open), but have also been known to eat chickens, kittens, and even fellow coconut crabs. Hey, with how big these things are, they need to eat everything they get their claws on.

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Let's get one thing straight: These things are big, but not that big. Occasionally, a viral photo like this one will go around to shock and awe. Biologist Michael Bok explains the coconut crab climbing into the trash can in that photo is normal sized, but the trash can is particularly small.

Related: The Smallest Scorpion On Earth

Have You No Morals?!

So here's where it gets juicy: That Amelia Earhart rumor. This urban legend operates on the idea that Earhart didn't drown in the Pacific, but crashed on the island Nikumaroro and was eaten by coconut crabs. As reported by Environmental Graffiti, "In 1940, researchers discovered a fraction of a skeleton on the island that matched the description of Amelia Earhart. Now, even more interesting clues are arising that seem to substantiate the idea that this is where she met her demise. The most compelling hypothesis currently under consideration is that coconut crabs overwhelmed her where she lay." While, sure, that's not outside the realm of possibility, Gizmodo provides strong evidence that it probably wasn't our giant crab friends who devoured her. (In an unusually gruesome experiment involving a pig carcass, no coconut crabs were seen hauling parts of the pig or bones away.) Maybe all this rumor shows us is how little we really know about this spectacular enigma of a crab.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Coconut crab juveniles are much bigger than hermit crabs, so they tend to dominate the area they live in. 02:02

  2. Coconut crabs have a lifespan comparable to that of a human. 03:41

  3. Coconut crabs are omnivorous. They will eat foods from fleshy fruits to rotten flesh. 04:25

The Epic Coconut Crab

Note: This photo is a little misleading—it shows an unusually small trashcan.

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