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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

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Axios AM Deep Dive: America’s murder surge

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Homicides rose at the fastest rate in at least six decades last year. This Axios AM Deep Dive, led by Future correspondent Bryan Walsh, looks at the state of gun crime.

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