Are Coconut Crabs Dangerous to Humans?

Coconut that looks dangerous

Coconut crabs are unusually big and live in areas where not many other crabs are found. Known for their strength, climbing abilities, and impressive size, these crabs look dangerous and scary to many. But can coconut crabs harm and kill humans?

Given their title as the largest living arthropods, coconut crabs are indeed very intimidating as crabs. In this guide, we will explore the fascinating world of coconut crabs and discuss some concerns about them.

Are Coconut Crabs Dangerous? 

Close up of a coconut crab

Coconut crabs, despite their intimidating looks and strong claws, are generally not a danger to humans. They prefer to keep their distance and avoid human interaction. These crabs won’t attack people unless they feel threatened or provoked.

Most encounters between humans and coconut crabs occur without incident. These crabs are more interested in scavenging for fruits, nuts, and occasionally carrion rather than confronting humans.

However, it’s important for people to respect the space of coconut crabs and avoid provoking them. These crabs can defend themselves strongly when they feel trapped or threatened.

Watch this video to see a harmless interaction between a family and a group of over 50 coconut crabs:

52 'Robber Crabs' invade family's campsite picnic in Australia

Fun Fact: A photo of a coconut crab was featured in an exhibit by photographer Thomas P. Peschak titled Dive into an Ocean Photographer’s World. 

The photo titled ‘Crabzilla’ is an interesting showcase of just how villainous and scary coconut crabs can appear to be.

Can Coconut Crabs Kill Humans?

Coconut crab climbs trees to get coconuts

Given their massive size and powerful claws, coconut crabs can potentially kill a human. However, the likelihood of such an event is quite low for several practical reasons.

Firstly, it’s important to know that coconut crabs are not known for attacking humans. They usually keep to themselves and are more likely to run away than to fight.

Secondly, if a coconut crab ever did become aggressive, a person could easily get away from it. These crabs aren’t fast movers, so you could outsmart or outrun one without much trouble.

Thirdly, they live in places where they don’t often run into people. They are found on certain islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, often in areas with lots of plants or rocks. 

This means they don’t usually come into contact with humans. In fact, an average person will find it hard to come across coconut crabs even if they want to. 

In short, while coconut crabs are big and strong, the chances of one killing a person are really low. They tend to avoid humans and are not quick enough to catch us.

My first encounter with coconut crabs was during a visit to Christmas Island, a small island situated in the Indian Ocean. This location is known for having the largest remaining population of coconut crabs, or as they call it there, ‘Robber Crabs.’

I fondly remember them shying away as I carefully drew near them to take a picture and document my experience.

Fun Fact: Coconut crabs are also called robber crabs due to their curious habit of snatching various items. They are fond of carrying stuff like pots, utensils, and pretty much anything else they come across. 

Many notable observations of robber crabs stealing stuff are detailed in a 2013 paper published by Adrian Burton titled “A Christmas Crustacean.” 

Do Coconut Crabs Attack and Eat Humans?

No, coconut crabs are not known for attacking or eating people. They mostly eat fruits, nuts, and dead animals. However, since they are opportunistic eaters, they can possibly eat human flesh if made available to them.

To get a better sense of how coconut crabs consume dead animals, watch this timelapse video:

Coconut Crabs Devour Pig Carcass | Searching For Amelia

Hypothetically speaking, if coconut crabs encountered a human corpse, they might scavenge it, similar to how they consume other carrion. 

Simply put, coconut crabs avoid humans and pose little danger if left undisturbed. They will not go out of their way to attack or eat humans. 

Fun Fact: While humans are not typically on a coconut crab’s menu, the reverse is not true, as some people do include coconut crabs in their diet!

Many people say that coconut crabs are very meaty. This is seen in a lot of answers to a question on Quora about them. I was also intrigued about this subject, and I even wrote an article about it. 

Has a Coconut Crab Ever Killed a Human?

There are no documented cases of coconut crabs killing humans. However, there is one notable theory about a person who was allegedly eaten by coconut crabs: the pilot, Amelia Earhart.

The theory goes that when aviator Amelia Earhart crashed and landed her plane on Nikumaroro Island in 1937, she eventually died as a castaway, and her remains were eaten by coconut crabs.

Evidence for this includes bones found on the island in 1940 that were identified as possibly belonging to Earhart. 

This theory is further supported by experiments showing that coconut crabs will drag and consume animal remains. 

The crabs may have scattered most of Earhart’s bones throughout their underground burrows, accounting for why parts of her skeleton were not found. 

Researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) are the ones who hypothesized what happened to Earhart. However, they have no conclusive evidence to prove their claims yet. 

You can read more about Earhart’s original mission on TIGHAR’s website

Aside from the Amelia Earhart theory, there are no other documented cases of a coconut crab killing or eating a human.

What Should You Do If You See a Coconut Crab?

Large and scary coconut crab

If you come across a coconut crab, it’s important to proceed with caution and not panic. 

Coconut crabs are massive land crabs that have really powerful pincers. While they won’t harm you out of nowhere, they can be quite unpredictable.

The first thing you should do is to back away from the crab and keep a safe distance. 

Once you’re at a safe distance, observe the crab without interfering. Remember, they are more afraid of you than you are of them. 

Do not try to hurt the crab. Also, keep in mind that they are a vulnerable species facing threats from habitat loss and overharvesting. 

If you’re in their habitat, it’s important to respect their space and remember that human interaction can be stressful for wildlife.

Here’s a reminder of just how unpredictable and strong coconut crabs are:

Coconut crab attacks bird

Frequently Asked Questions

Coconut crab cracking open a coconut

Can Coconut Crabs Break Human Bones?

It is likely that coconut crabs can break softer human bones like fingers and toes. However, they are unlikely to break larger bones like the femur, which require roughly 900 pound-force (4,000 newtons).

For reference, they can break open coconut shells, which require anywhere around 134 to 674 pound-force (600 to 3,000 newtons) to break. 

How Strong Is a Coconut Crab Bite?

The normal grabbing force of a Coconut Crab is around 67 pound-force (300 newtons); however, their maximum bite force can reach upwards of 670 pound-force (3,000 newtons). 

To put this into perspective, the average human bite force is around 67 to 157 pound-force (300 to 700 newtons).

Where Do Coconut Crabs Live?

Coconut crabs are found mainly in the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific Ocean. 

They inhabit a range of islands, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Seychelles, parts of Southeast Asia, and some Pacific islands like Guam. 

These crabs thrive in tropical environments, often residing in coastal forests, underground burrows, or hidden among rocks and vegetation.

So, do you find coconut crabs dangerous? Hopefully, this guide has enlightened you on what these crabs really are and their potential dangers. Share your thoughts about coconut crabs with us in the comments below!

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