Land Crabs

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Land Crabs less well known than marine crabs, are nonetheless a moderately important food resource in certain tropical and subtropical regions, notably the Caribbean.

The largest, and one which is greatly prized as food, is the so-called robber crab (or coconut crab), Birgus latro, measuring up to 15 cm (6") across the carapace and with a front leg span of as much as 90 cm (3'). This crab is common in islands of the Indo-Pacific. Early writers gave currency to the idea that it clambers up coconut palms to gather coconuts, then cracks them open and feeds on the contents; but Street (1966) casts doubt on this:

In recent years, however, several naturalists have investigated the habits of the robber crabs, and their findings do not substantiate the earlier reports. The occasional individual has been observed to remove a little of the husk, but none has stripped a nut completely, while the majority show no interest whatsoever in the complete nut. Even when provided with husked nuts, none of them proved able to open them … As to their tree-climbing habits, they are capable of ascending the trunk of a tree if disturbed, but there is no evidence that they do so for the purpose of gathering food.