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Getting Crabby in the Cooks

Among the most interesting animals that cruisers encounter for the first time in the South Pacific is the coconut crab. Check out the one — they are typically blue — being held up by Randy Ramirez of the Stockton-based Mariah 31 Mystic at Suwarrov Atoll in the Cook Islands a few months ago. Big, isn’t it? The largest land-living arthropod in the world, coconut crabs can weigh as much as nine pounds and have a leg span of three feet. They don’t usually reach mature size until 40 to 60 years of age. Yeah, some of them live long enough to qualifty for social security.

Randy Ramirez, who did the ’06 Ha-Ha aboard his Flicka 20 Dulcinea, holds up what must be a nearly 50-year-old coconut crab.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Want to win a bar bet? Except in infancy, coconut crabs are terrestrial and don’t have gills. As a result, they drown if they are immersed in water for more than an hour.

Despite their name and the fact they are almost always found near coconut palms, the staple of a coconut crab’s diet is fleshy fruits, nuts, tortoise hatchlings and dead animals. It’s also been speculated that coconut crabs ate the remains of missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart, then hid her bones in their burrows.

John and James, the two rangers at Suwarrow, help cruisers with fishing and make sure all the environmental rules are followed. Note the snappy ‘uniforms’.

©2011 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

But yes, coconut crabs do eat coconuts. Sometimes they find a coconut on the ground, cut it to a husk nut, take it up to 30 feet high in a tree, then drop it in hopes of cracking it open. How do they get down from the tree themselves? Sometimes they just drop themselves, free-falling from heights of as much as 15 feet. Other times coconut crabs find coconuts on the ground, and over a period of days use their claws to cut holes in the nut to get at the contents.

Coconut crabs have no known predators other than other coconut crabs and hungry humans such as Ramirez. The fact that coconut crabs have lots of meat, are considered a delicacy, and are thought to be aphrodisiacs, means they are now rare in some areas where they previously thrived. But they still thrive in the Cooks.

Unlike coconut crabs, blacktip reef sharks can stay underwater forever. Here they are seen cruising by Mystic, which is laying to the hook at Suwarrow.

©2011 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

When a coconut crab pinches a human, it will do the pitbull thing and not let go. If you gently rub a pitbull’s stomach with some light material, it will keep biting you. But coconut crabs are complete sensualists, so if you gently tickle their undersides with something soft, they will loosen their grip.

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