Can You Eat Coconut Crabs?

Known to us westerners since the voyages of Francis Drake in the eighties – 1580s, that is – coconut crabs still capture our imagination because of their sheer size (and internet memes).

There is no doubt that crabs and lobsters are considered to be tasty sea and freshwater food. They are liked and eaten by millions of people worldwide and perhaps hundreds of thousands in our own country. They are also rich in various nutrients and therefore are also good from the health point of view.

However, in this article, our effort is to try to get the right answer to the question: can you eat coconut crabs? 

Table of Contents

Can you eat coconut crabs?

Coconut crabs are very much edible, and people do eat them, especially the people on islands in the Indian Ocean and the central Pacific Ocean where these crabs live. It is important to know that they are sometimes poisonous and also endangered.

Yes, there is no doubt that coconut crabs are very much edible, and for many, it is considered to be a delicacy. However, this variant of crab is a protected species, and therefore indiscreet hunting and killing of them may not be permitted.

Let us find out why coconut crabs are considered so very special.

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Other common names for the Birgus latro species include robber crab and palm thief, which mirrors the animal’s name in other European languages, for example, German – Palmendieb. In Japan, where the species lives on some of the country’s southerly island chains, the crab is typically referred to as Yashigani (ヤシガニ) or the ‘palm crab.’

The coconut crab (Birgus latro)
The coconut crab (Birgus latro)

What’s the coconut crab’s size?

Being the largest terrestrial arthropods, they really are a sight to behold. They can have a leg span of up to 3.3 feet (1 m), weigh up to 9 pounds (4.1 kg), and be up to 1.3 feet (40 cm) long. Because they’re so big, adult crabs don’t have any predators other than other coconut crabs and humans.

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What do coconut crabs eat?

Coconut crabs are omnivores and eat a varied diet. They eat mostly fleshy fruit, but also nuts and seeds and, well – coconuts.

They’ll also eat dead animals, tortoise hatchlings, other crabs like the abundant Christmas Island red crab and Discoplax hirtipes, and scavenge on the carcasses of other coconut crabs.

You better not leave anything unattended on the ground as they might find it interesting and/or delicious and take it away. Their alternative name is robber crab, after all.

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Are coconut crabs poisonous?

Coconut Crab
Coconut Crab

There are some stories and articles on the internet and other places that talk about coconut crabs being poisonous. However, this may not be actually true. But, there have been some instances where poisoning because of coconut crab eating has been reported.

This perhaps has more to do with the diet and how the delicacies and food items have been prepared with these coconut crabs.

There are some variants of coconut crabs, such as Cerbera Manghas, which may make them toxic because of the presence of a compound and substance known as cardiac cardenolides. 

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Are coconut crabs endangered?

Coconut crabs are somewhat endangered. As early as 1981, coconut crabs were listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species, and that’s still true when it was updated in 2018.

Some limited conservation efforts are taking place, like the ban on capturing egg-bearing females in Guam and Micronesia and limiting how many crabs you can capture in a day or annually.

Coconut crabs are adaptive 

Coconut crab crossing road in South Pacific Island Niue
Coconut crab crossing road in South Pacific Island Niue

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According to some research findings, coconut crabs are classified as a highly adapted type of decapods on the planet. These crabs are known to live alone in rock crevices and burrows, and they choose the right home based on their terrain.

They are known almost extensively on land, and they come to the sea only when there is a need to release their eggs.

They prefer staying in their homes except for finding food. They can also be seen more in number during the monsoons because it perhaps helps them to breathe better. 

Why is Coconut Crab So Popular? 

As far as their natural habitats are concerned, there are reasons to believe that adult coconut crabs have no known predators.

Some risks may occur from other coconut crabs. However, the biggest threat is perhaps from human beings. This is because these crabs are quite big in size. 

Further, many believe that these crabs offer one of the most nutritious foods.

Coconut crabs are extensively hunted. They have been hunted so fiercely and indiscreetly that in many islands, their population has dwindled quite significantly.

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Even today, the coconut crab is considered to be a delicacy, and many also believe that it has some wonderful aphrodisiac properties. However, these are based more on hearsay rather than the result of science and research.

The levels of hunting of coconut carbs have become so intense that their very existence may soon become a question mark. 

How to Cook a Coconut Crab 

It is clear from the above that coconut crabs are fit enough to be eaten and are considered to be a rich source of protein, healthy fatty acids, and various other vitamins, minerals, and other such substances.

However, in case you wish to enjoy coconut crabs the right way, there are some proven and time-tested tips that one should keep in mind.

We are sharing some simple tips for enjoying coconut crab as a delicacy while avoiding the risk of possible poisoning. 

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The whole process of cooking coconut crabs should begin with heating up a pan of water that has salt in it. It would be a good idea to go in for a combination of half freshwater or half seawater. The live crabs have to be put in the pan, and the lid should be closed.

The water should heat up and allow to simmer for around 10 to 15 minutes. The simmering time would depend on the size of the crab. It would also be a good idea to check the crab to ensure that it is done properly.

When done, the coconut crab would turn a red color. Avoid overheating the crab because you will run the risk of puncturing the abdomen, and all the contents will spill over to the water, making it inedible. 

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It is clear from the above that coconut crabs are considered to be good food even today though they continue to be protected as an endangered species. It would help if you also stayed away from some variants of coconut crabs that are considered poisonous. 


Are coconut crabs strong?

Coconut crabs are strong enough to rip open a coconut, climb trees, even break the bones of birds. The coconut crab is one of nature’s gigantic species and can also lift up to about 30 kilograms.

Their claws are stronger than human hands, and they have the strongest pinch. Coconut crabs use their claws to gain a dietary advantage.

Are coconut crabs friendly?

Coconut crabs are solitary animals, and they are quite antisocial animals. They prefer to live alone in crevices or burrows and guard their privacy; a crab entering another’s burrow risks becoming a meal.

They drag their food to their burrows, so they don’t need to confront other coconut crabs. They are solitary feeders, unlike, for example, most hermit crabs.

How long do coconut crabs live?

Coconut crabs live a long time. They can live up to 60 years, weigh up to 5 kg (11 lbs) and have a body length of 40 cm (16 in). Males will grow to be larger than females who give birth just once a year.

Coconut crabs reach sexual maturity when they are five years old. When they enter adulthood, coconut crabs lose their ability to swim, and if they end up back in the water, they will drown.