Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Rare crab discovered in Hualien

HUALIEN SURPRISE:A mysterious crab found in a backyard turned out to be an egg-carrying female of an endangered species, the first in the area in more than a decade

By Wang Chin-yi and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A coconut crab crawls on Wednesday last week near the Meilun River in Hualien.

Photo: Wang Chin-i, Taipei Times

A Hualien homeowner has discovered a critically endangered coconut crab crawling along a bank of the Meilun River (美崙溪). Not a single member of this species had been seen in the upper east coast region for many years.

A resident, surnamed Wu (吳), whose home is near the river in the city, said that he found a female coconut crab in his backyard on Wednesday last week.

“I was out feeding the fish in my backyard pond. This strange creature came crawling near my feet. I had no idea what it was, so I took a photograph of it,” Wu said.

“I posted the picture with a message to a friend, who had some background in biology, thinking he might be able to help to identify it. To my surprise, he said it was a coconut crab, an endangered species in Taiwan,” Wu said.

He contacted Hualien County’s Bureau of Agriculture conservation office, seeking its help in releasing the crab so it could propagate.

Conservation officer Lin Cheng-ko (林政科) was sent to Wu’s home to examine the coconut crab, which has distinct dark purple and blue colors on its exoskeleton.

Lin said that the crab was a healthy and energetic female.

He was elated to find she was carrying a lot of eggs in her brood sac on her underbelly.

Ho Ping-ho (何平合), assistant professor at National Taiwan Ocean University and a marine crustacean specialist, said it was the first time a live coconut crab has been found in the Hualien area in more than a decade.

“It could be an important find if this female crab is a native inhabitant. She may have lived along Hualien’s seashore and crawled her way from there up the Meilun River. If so, we may have a healthy population of coconut crabs around here, and this would be very exciting news,” he said.

However, he said there was another possibility.

“This particular crab may have escaped from someone who is illegally importing and raising such crabs,” he said.

“It is also possible this female crab ‘got lost’ on her oceanic journey and found her way to Taiwan’s east coast. Summer is the breeding season for coconut crabs. The female heads to the seashore to burrow and lay eggs. At times, they may be washed out to sea, then ride the ocean current to land in Taiwan,” Ho said.

If that is what happened, then it is likely the crab came from the Philippines or other islands to the south, and was carried north by the Kuroshio Current, he said.

Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) are a species of terrestrial hermit crab, and are widely distributed along tropical and subtropical islands in the Western Pacific Ocean.

“However, due to human predation and habitat destruction, coconut crabs are extinct in most areas of Taiwan,” Ho said.

They are also disappearing in other countries, and are listed as a critically endangered species under international wildlife conservation conventions.

“It is the only crustacean species listed under protection in Taiwan. These days it can only be found on Green Island (綠島) and Lanyu (蘭嶼), and some areas on the coast of Taitung County,” Ho said.

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