Nov 6, 2017

Coconut crabs also eat birds

A coconut crab kills a red-footed booby. Photo: Mark Laidre / Dartmouth

For decades, scientists believed the nine-pound coconut crab ate, well, coconuts. But in March 2016, biologist Mark Laidre watched one catch, kill and devour a red-footed booby. He described the encounter in a paper published in Frontiers in Ecology last week.

Why it matters: Fairly little is known about coconut crabs, including their diet. Researchers found islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans with lots of the crabs had few ground-nesting birds, and those with lots of birds had no crabs. Since ground-nesting birds are very vulnerable to predators, it's possible voracious coconut crabs influence the distribution of these birds.

  • Coconut crabs are the largest land invertebrates — their legs can span up to a meter across, and they weigh as much as nine pounds. They have the strongest measured grip of any animal.
  • The crabs catch the birds with startling ease, according to Laidre. He watched a crab creep up a tree towards a sleeping bird and pounce, grabbing the bird by the wing and breaking it. The bird fell to the ground unable to fly, and the crab descended, and broke the other wing. Then, it held the bird in place with it's claws, and pummeled it with its legs.
  • The crabs have a keen sense of smell, and soon several others joined in on the feeding frenzy.
  • "It was pretty gruesome, they just converged on the bird and tore it apart," Laidre tells Axios.

Watch it happen: National Geographic, which funded Laidre's expedition, has a video of the crab massacre in action.

Go deeper

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Venice Beach in Los Angeles on May 24. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks against the coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Driving the news: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, authorities on Florida's Gulf Coast closed parking lots because they were full and there were crowded scenes at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri, per AP, which reports a shooting injured several people at a packed Daytona Beach in Florida.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,405,029 — Total deaths: 344,997 — Total recoveries — 2,168,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,642,021 — Total deaths: 97,698 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans sue California over mail-out ballot plan

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a February news conference in Sacramento, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Trump accused Democrats of trying "Rig" November's general election as Republican groups filed a lawsuit against California Sunday in an attempt to stop Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) from mailing ballots to all registered voters.

Driving the news: Newsom signed an executive order this month in response to the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that all registered voters in the state receive a mail-in ballot.