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Crabs, Crabs Everywhere But Not a One to Eat: Spotting the Christmas Island Locals

April 3, 2014 at 4:40 PM | by | ()

A tiny stamp of land in the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is a haven for crabs, birds, and, as a territory of Australia, even for asylum-seekers. Why would anyone pay the expensive airfare and trek so far to visit Christmas Island? This is the question we'll be answering all week.

Yesterday we showed you how to get to the distant tropical paradise of Christmas Island, so it's about time we highlight what's actually worth doing on the island.

Along with rocky shorelines, killer sunrises and sunsets, the island is home to a plethora of exotic animals. The most popular of these, and certainly the most visible, is the red crab, which migrates across the island to spawn and hatch their young once a year. Although the island is completely taken over by the crabs in the Southern Hemisphere's early summer, rest assured spotting the crabs isn't a difficult feat any other time of the year. These little red decapods can be found all over the place, mingling with plenty of other crab varieties, like robber, blue, hermit, little nipper and ghost crabs.

Residents of the island take their crabs pretty seriously, and we're not talking about how they prefer them to be prepared; all Christmas Island crabs are protected and not intended for the dinner table. Even leaving the airport, visitors are greeted by signs reminding vehicles to drive around the crabs to ensure they are safe and sound. The threat of cars is particularly a challenge for the giant land (robber) crabs since they tend to rear up when confronted and can get caught on the underside of cars.

Smaller red and blue crabs can be found nearer the wetlands, in rock cliffs, and in the rainforest area near the Dales, the island's natural waterfall region. During the migration roads are closed to automobiles, as it's nearly impossible to safely drive more than a few feet. If you're visiting during crab season, ensure you keep a leaf rake handy since that's the best way to clear a path on a clogged road.

Speaking of land crabs (commonly called Robber Crabs on the island), these benevolent giants can be found in any of the forest regions and get their "Robber" nickname from their natural affinity for shiny objects and tendency to steal. We were lucky enough to happen across three medium-sized crustaceans sharing a coconut for a sunny, late lunch in the middle of the road. Incidentally, the island has the largest population of land crabs of any Pacific and Indian Ocean nations.

In all, Christmas Island boasts about 20 different species of crab, which feature prominently in local culture. From crab toys, tours, souvenirs, and even car license plates, crabs can be spotted just about everywhere so long as it's not in a boiling dinner pot.

[Photos: Rayme Gorniak & Cynthia Drescher]

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