Jan 3, 2015

Coconut Crab, Hawaii and Pitcairn Island

Birgus latro [Smithsonian photo]
In Hawaii it is illegal to have or import non-domestic animals that are considered invasive species. Recently, a Hawaiian resident discovered a giant blue Coconut Crab walking down the street on Oahu island, who captured it and turned it into Hawaiian authorities. Hawaiians are sensitive about non-domestic fawn and fauna because the Hawaiian islands of paradise became infested with creatures introduced to their native lands.
It began when Europeans discovered and landed their ships in Hawaii and brought with them disease that the islanders were not immune to as well as animals such as rats that scurried off the ships and onto the island to breed and multiply.

Red variety
Coconut crabs are a species of terrestrial hermit crab known as Birgus latro, the largest land anthropoid in the world whose appetite is voracious growing to a length of up to three feet long. Depending upon location their color ranges from blue to red and reddish brown. Their main diet consists of coconuts, leaves, fruits, eggs, dead animals, and other crabs – but when roaming human residents that diet could also include kittens, puppies and make a complete mess of residential gardens.
Found on many islands of the Pacific and Indian Ocean, which include Christmas Island, Marianna Islands, Tuvalu, Cook Islands and the Pitcairn Islands; the latter made famous by true story of the Mutiny of the HMS Bounty led by Fletcher Christian.
The Pitcairn Islands were first settled by Polynesians who lived on Pitcairn, Henderson, and Mangareva islands. Trade and social ties were formed between the three islands despite the long canoe voyage between them (250 miles). However, when the Europeans discovered Pitcairn Island in the 15th century, it was uninhabited.
Ducie and Henderson islands were discovered by the Portuguese sailor, Pedro Fernandes de Quieirós under the flag of the Spanish Crown.
In July of 1767, Pitcairn Island was sighted by the crew of the British sloop, HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Phillip Carteret. They named the island after Midshipman Robert Pitcairn, a 15-year-old crew member who first sighted the island. He was the son of British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution. Later, Pitcairn Island was difficult to find because Captain Carteret did not have the newly invented marine chronometer, so the longitude was off 3°. It is the reason why Captain James Cook failed to locate the island in July of 1773.
In 1790, nine of the mutineers from the HMS Bounty and six Tahitian men, eleven Tahitian women and one baby settled on Pitcairn Island after setting fire to the Bounty. The wreck was discovered in 1957 by National Geographic explorer, Luis Marden. The settlers survived by farming and fishing, but alcoholism, murder, disease, et cetera, took the lives of most of the mutineers and Tahitian men. John Adams and Ned Young used the scriptures from the ship's Bible and established a more peaceful society, converting the Polynesians to Christianity. Young died, but John Adams lived to be granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny.
Henderson Island was rediscovered in January of 1819 by a British Captain James Henderson of the British East India Company on the ship Hercules. In 1838, Pitcairn Island became a British colony and was the first territory to have voting rights for women. By the 1850s, the population was becoming overcrowded, so an appeal was made to the British government for assistance. They were offered Norfolk Island and in May of 1856, the community of 193 people set sail for Norfolk, a five-week trip. After eighteen months on Norfolk, seventeen Pitcairn residents returned to the home island and five years later another twenty seven followed.
The population peaked at 233 on Pitcairn Island in 1937 and has fallen because of emigration to New Zealand, leaving a population of about fifty people.
Pitcairn Island is accessible only by boat through Bounty Bay. Henderson Island supports a variety of animals in its nearly inaccessible interior and lacks any abundance of fresh water.
About nine plant species that grow on Pitcairn Island are thought to grow nowhere else. A rare giant tortoise, known as Turpen, lives at Tedside at Western Harbour. There are seabirds, wading birds and several land bird species, the Pitcairn reed warbler is unique to Pitcairn Island. It was added to the endangered species list in 2008.
The coconut crab is among the terrestrial animals of Pitcairn Island and surrounding land areas.
Petroglyphs can be found on the rocky cliffs of Pitcairn Island, as described by the Bluish Coder website of New Zealand. The large crab has a keen sense of smell used to search for food sources – fruits and coconuts, but dead or dying things as well; like Amelia Earhart.
In a December article by Rachel Nuwer of the Smithsonian, she wrote:
Among terrestrial arthropods, the phylum that includes crustaceans, spiders and insects, coconut crabs are the largest on the planet. The crabs, which live on islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, can grow up to three feet across and weigh nine pounds, Wired reports.
In 1940, researchers discovered a fraction of a skeleton on the island that matched the description of Amelia Earhart. Now, even more interesting clues are arising that seem to substantiate the idea that this is where she met her demise. The most compelling hypothesis currently under consideration is that coconut crabs overwhelmed her where she lay.
No wonder Hawaiians were not too happy when a Coconut Crab was found walking down one of their streets.

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