coconut crab
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
January 6, 2024 ·  4 min read

The Coconut Crab Kills Birds And Breaks Bones – And May Have Eaten Amelia Earhart Alive

When Charles Darwin saw a coconut crab for the first time, the only word he could think of to describe it was “monstrous”. 

These massive crustaceans look like something out of a sci-fi movie, with their hard shells and large pincers. Coconut crabs will eat anything, from fruits to birds, to larger animals, and some experts believe they may have eaten Amelia Earhart, too.

The Coconut Crab

The coconut crab is the largest terrestrial arthropod in the world. They can have a leg span of up to three feet and can weigh up to nine pounds. The crab’s front-most legs have massive claws that they use to break open coconuts, and these claws can lift objects that weigh up to 64 pounds [1].

In Darwin’s time, there were many stories about the amazing and horrific things the coconut crab could do. There were rumors of them climbing trees and dangling for hours from just once pincer, stories of their grotesque claws that could break through a coconut. Of course, there were also rumors that these giant creatures could rip a human being apart [2].

There is, of course, some truth to these rumors. The coconut crab’s claws are some of the most powerful weapons in the animal kingdom, and they can in fact break through a coconut. The tropical fruit makes up the majority of the crab’s diet, hence its name. Without its claws, it would not be capable of this.

The coconut crab, however, will eat just about anything. They’ll eat other fruits as well, but will also hunt and kill birds and live pigs. The crabs may sometimes eat the corpses of other crabs, and even devour their own exoskeleton after they shed it [2,3].

Where does the Coconut Crab Live?

The coconut crab lives in areas throughout the Indian and Western Pacific oceans. The largest population lives on Christmas Island in the Indian ocean. You can also find them on the Cook Islands, in particular Pukapuka, Suwarrow, Mangaia, Takutea, Mauke, Atiu, and smaller islands of Palmerston, as well as on Seychelles [1].

Did Coconut Crabs Eat Amelia Earhart?

The mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart has baffled historians and scientists for decades. Many believe that she crash-landed in the Pacific ocean during her round-the-world flight, where she drowned.

Having been unable to find her remains, this seemed like the most plausible explanation for her disappearance. Some people, however, have a different theory. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes that the coconut crab had a role to play in the pilot’s demise. 

On July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan tried to land on the Pacific Island, Howland. The group hypothesizes that when they couldn’t find it, they instead landed on Nikumaroro.

The rest of the theory is as follows: Noonan eventually died, the plane floated off the reef, and Earhart was alone. At least, there were no other humans with her on the island.

Three years later, thirteen bones were found on the island that were thought to be part of Amelia Earhart’s skeleton. Authorities sent the bones to Fiji for examination, but they got lost on the way. 

What happened to the other 206 bones of Earhart’s body?

TIGHAR believes this is where the coconut crab comes in. When the bones were discovered, coconut crabs had scattered them around. The organization’s theory says that the crabs likely consumed Earhart’s body after she died, and dragged her bones back to their burrows.

To prove this theory, TIGHAR had to determine whether or not the crabs would bring the bones back to their burrows or not. As a test, they placed a pig carcass where they believe Earhart might have been and waited. Just as they expected, the crabs, along with several strawberry hermit crabs, swarmed the body.

Within two weeks, the crabs had removed most of the flesh. A year later, they found the crabs had dragged some of the bones sixty feet. They could not, however, find all of the remains [4].

The Dogs are On the Scent

In 2001, unearthed possible signs of an American castaway on the island, including the remains of several campfires, items such as a jackknife, a woman’s compact, a zipper pull, and glass jars. In 2017, TIGHAR brought for forensic dogs to the site, who signaled that they had found a spot where someone had died [5].

They didn’t find the bones then, but they’re still hoping. The organization is still optimistic that they’ll find the source of the scent that alerted the dogs, and that they will eventually find the spot where the coconut crabs carried Earhart’s remains all those years ago.

Should You Fear the Coconut Crab?

If you live in North America, you likely will never come face-to-face with a coconut crab. If you ever visit an area with a coconut crab population, however, you do want to be careful. 

Coconut crabs don’t usually bother people, but they will if provoked. In general, however, the crabs have more reason to fear us than we do them. It’s possible that Earhart was the only person ever killed by one of these creatures, and yet humans have killed them to near extinction [2].

Of course, if you ever do meet one of these terrifying creatures, you would have every reason to be afraid. They are quite scary-looking, and are likely not worth sticking around for the photo opp.


  1. ‘Coconut crab’ Wikipedia
  2. ‘The Coconut Crab Kills Birds And Breaks Bones – And May Have Eaten Amelia Earhart’ All That’s Interesting Mark Oliver. Published July 16, 2018.
  3. ‘Coconut Crabs Eat Everything from Kittens to, Maybe, Amelia Earhart’ Smithsonian Mag Rachel Nuwer. Published December 26, 2013.
  4. ‘Colossal crabs may hold clue to Amelia Earhart fate’ National Geographic Rachel Hartigan. Published August 20, 2019.
  5. ‘Forensic Dogs Locate Spot Where Amelia Earhart May Have Died’ National Geographic Rachel Hartigan. Published July 7, 2017.