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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

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Officials warn 5 key tech sectors will determine whether China overtakes U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. intelligence officials responsible for protecting advanced technologies have narrowed their focus to five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, semiconductors and autonomous systems.

Why it matters: China and Russia are employing a variety of legal and illegal methods to undermine and overtake U.S. dominance in these critical industries, officials warned in a new paper. Their success will determine "whether America remains the world’s leading superpower or is eclipsed by strategic competitors."

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