Sunday, April 15, 2012

Beware of the Palm Thief

As a part of the species Birgus Latro, the coconut crab is the largest arthropod to roam the land. The robber crab inhabits coastal forest regions of many Indo-Pacific islands and generally hides during the day only to emerge later from underground burrows to forage or steal shiny pots and silverware from nearby tents. The body of a coconut crab is like that of a decapod; it is divided into a front region (cephalothorax) consists of 10 legs and an abdomen. They are known as coconut crabs because of the way they use their claws, which are found on the front-most pair of legs, to crack coconuts open to access the meat inside. With these claws they can lift objects up to 64 pounds. But it's no wonder they can do this considering the size limits their pushing with an exoskeleton that large!

The palm thief in action.
To our surprise, these buggers cannot swim and will drown in water, however, they need to be kept moist all over to function properly. They do not possess gills or lungs, but have adapted to their habitat with a branchiostegal lung. It contains a tissue similar to that found in gills, but is suited to the absorption of oxygen from air. The organ is exapanded laterally and evaginated, turned inside out, to increase surface area. It is optimally placed at the cephalothorax to reduce diffusion distance and return distance of oxygenated blood. These crabs use their hindmost legs, which are the smallest, to clean this branchiostegal lung. 

"Stay away from the coconut and no one gets hurt." - Palm Thief

Now in relation to this blog, the coconut crab actually possesses an additional set of rudimentary gills, which are reduced in size. And while they were probably as the main respiratory system back in the day, they obviously are not fit to provide a sufficient amount of oxygen to these beastly animals. This goes to show that this species was probably used to breathing underwater, but evolution suggested that bigger and better respiratory surfaces were necessary if the species was to adapt to its environment and keep up with its size.
An expert at climbing trees.

The following link is actually a very interesting video showing the interaction of coconut crabs amongst one another and amongst their smaller cousins: hermit crabs.

Wait! I almost forgot: coconut crabs are also kept as pets in Tokyo!

"Coconut Crab - Reference." Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.


  1. I couldn't believe this crab was real at first! OMG! So, I've never heard of a branchiostegal lung before, but then again, my knowledge is always lacking. Are there other animals in this crab's evolutionary position that have this type of organ?

  2. Haha me neither! But yeah, some snails and other types of crabs have this type of organ.

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