What would you do if you found a giant coconut crab crawling alongside a busy boulevard?
Box it up and call the Department of Agriculture (HDOA); that’s what Moanalua resident did when she discovered a 4.8 pound crustacean crawling along Salt Lake Boulevard around 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 21.
Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) are the world’s largest arthropod. It’s in the same category as spiders and insects.
They’re also an invasive species, and could cause serious harm if there are more in Hawaii.
According to HDOA officials, this recent coconut crab sighting is the first since 1989.
The coconut crab is a type of terrestrial hermit crab native to areas throughout the Indian and central Pacific Ocean regions. Christmas Island is known for its large population of coconut crabs.
According to Rob Toonen, Ph.D. professor at Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at University of Hawaii, the crustaceans can grow up to three feet in length.
“Three feet is as big as a trash can. Literally, as big as a trash can,” says Toonen. “That’s why people are worried about it having it show up here. A crab that big can do damage if it’s wandering around trying to find things to eat.”
Tonen says a coconut crab infestation would have a huge impact on Hawaii’s natural resources.
“They’ll raid people’s trash cans. Eat native birds. Eat juvenile plants. And tear up the landscape if they’re here. They grab a hold of things. Can rip them open. Can bust open a coconut. And the idea of that crawling around in their backyard is not going to be very pleasant to most people in Hawaii.”
The family reported the coconut crab to the Department of Agriculture. It is now in the agency’s possession as coconut crabs are illegal in Hawaii.
Coconut crabs may only be imported for research by universities or government agencies, for exhibition in municipal zoos or government-affiliated aquariums, or for other institutions for medical or scientific purposes and requires the approval of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.
For the list of restricted and prohibited animals, click here.
The Department of Agriculture has an amnesty program, where you can voluntarily surrender illegal animals and in turn you will not face any punishment. Anyone with information on illegal animals can call the state’s Pest Hotline at 643-PEST(7378).
How it got to Oahu is unknown at this time.