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Coconut Crabs Eat Everything from Kittens to, Maybe, Amelia Earhart

According to one theory, Earhart did not drown in the Pacific but instead crashed on the remote Nikumaroro atoll, where she was eaten by coconut crabs

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Among terrestrial arthropods, the phylum that includes crustaceans, spiders and insects, coconut crabs are the largest on the planet. The crabs, which live on islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, can grow up to three feet across and weigh nine pounds, Wired reports.

To get that big, the crabs need to eat a lot. Environmental Graffiti explains:

Coconut crabs come forth irregularly at night to feed, loot, raid and plunder. The crab is known for its ability to crack or pound open coconuts with the strong pincers or two large chelae it possesses in order to eat the contents.

The soft white meat of the coconut forms the main part of the crab's diet. However, it also eats simple foodstuffs such as fruit and leaves as well as more 'extreme' items like crustaceans' exoskeletons that have been moulted. This may serve as a calcium source for the growth of the creature's own shell.


Besides eating their own exoskeletons, the crabs have been known to feast on chickens, kittens and and fellow coconut crabs. Finding these delicacies requires a bit of sniffing around. Wired explains:
The coconut crab finds food with its extremely well-developed sense of smell. Like an insect, it uses antennae to zero in on its vittles, but takes this to an extreme by devoting considerable brainpower to the sense.

Some believe this excellent sense of smell, in fact, led the coconut crabs to a dead or dying Amelia Earhart. According to one theory, Earhart did not drown in the Pacific but instead crash landed on Nikumaroro, a remote atoll in the Pacific. Environmental Graffiti:
In 1940, researchers discovered a fraction of a skeleton on the island that matched the description of Amelia Earhart. Now, even more interesting clues are arising that seem to substantiate the idea that this is where she met her demise. The most compelling hypothesis currently under consideration is that coconut crabs overwhelmed her where she lay.

Researchers carried out an experiment to validate whether the coconut crabs had a part in her demise.

Back in 2007, they used a small pig carcass to assess what the coconut crabs might have done. The bones were removed very quickly and scattered, according to Patricia Thrasher, TIGHAR’s president.


This issue is far from settled, however. As BBC Future reports:
The evidence on Nikumaroro could turn out to be an odd coincidence and wishful thinking, meaning that the castaway’s bones actually belong to some other poor, stranded soul. In this scenario, Earhart simply crashed into the ocean and died on impact – probably a preferable ending to being eaten by giant coconut crabs.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Castaway Cuisine, Fictional and Real  
Amelia Earhart, Fashionata 

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