The Coconut Crab – Terrestrial hermit crabs of the Ryukyu Islands

Coconut crabs are the largest terrestrial hermit crabs of the Ryukyu Islands. They are scarce on the Island of Okinawa due to over-hunting. They are sold in local fish markets for high prices. The meat of the the coconut crab is sought after and considered a delicacy.  No conservation programs are set in place to protect this native crab. It is currently listed as data deficient on the IUCN list of Threatened species.

  • Scientific name: Birgus latro
  • Common name: Coconut crab, robber crab and palm thief
  • Distribution: Majority of the Ryukyu Islands
  • Habitat: Coastal forest
  • Diet: Seeds, fruit and carrion
  • Average size: 20-40 centimeters
  • Color: Purple, blue or orange
Coconut crab- Okinawa

Coconut crab- Okinawa

How to tell the difference between a coconut crab and a hermit crab. They look very similar to the blueberry hermit crab at first, but the coconut crab has protective spines near its eyes. Hermit crabs do not have these spines since they have adapted to retreat into a shell to protect their eyes. The coconut crab does not depend on a seashell as it gets larger. I still have yet to find a juvenile coconut crab adapting with a seashell.

spines that protect the eyes

spines that protect the eyes

Terrestrial hermit crabs live in the coastal forest where the treeline and coastline meet. They are the caretakers of the coastal forest. They mainly feed on plants, flowers, fruits and seeds in the treeline. They also help disperse seeds in the forest, specifically the screw pine tree seeds.

The Climber- robber crab

The Climber- Adult coconut crab

Pandanus trees with spiky sword shaped leaves provide a perfect environment for the Coconut crabs to thrive.

Pandus odifer

Pandus odifer – favorite food

A juvenile climbing on Pandanus tree

Juvenile coconut crab - Okinawa

Juvenile coconut crab – Okinawa

Okinawa’s harsh limestone coastline. The female must make the journey over this rough terrain to lay her eggs in the ocean.

Coconut crab - Onna village

Coconut crab – Onna village

Photographed on on a white portable outdoor studio for the Meet Your neighbours project. ( Connecting people worldwide with the wildlife in their community )

Coconut crab- MYN technique

Coconut crab- MYN technique

Meet Crabzilla! – The most aggressive crab I have encountered on Okinawa.   Coconut crabs are fearless and have bone crushing power. You do not want to get caught by the claw, You play you will Pay!!

Crabzilla -Okinawa

Crabzilla -Okinawa

Coconut crabs spend their day hiding in burrows.  They venture out searching for food late at night.  This juvenile was found crossing the road.

Let's dance- Coconut crab

Let’s dance- Coconut crab

Have a great day!