A loquacious crustacean? How the coconut crab produces sound

A loquacious crustacean? How the coconut crab produces sound

Coconut crabs likely talk to each other, according to researchers. (Photograph provided by the Okinawa Churashima Foundation.)

October 19, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

OKINAWA ISLAND—Is the coconut crab chatty?

On October 18, researchers of the Okinawa Churashima Foundation (Motobu); the National Research and Development Agency, Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (Kanagawa prefecture); and the Conservation & Animal Welfare Trust Okinawa (Uruma) presented their findings on the sound production mechanisms of the coconut crab (Birgus latro), the largest terrestrial crustacean.

The study indicates a strong possibility that coconut crabs “converse” with each other, by actively producing sounds varying in intensity and rhythm.

The researchers are driven to comprehend the crab’s “conversations”, and said they will continue with the research.

The coconut crab is a crustacean found in the tropical and semitropical regions of the Pacific, and are designated an endangered species.

The research group took special notice of the clattering and sputtering sounds made by the coconut crab while conducting research at the Ocean Expo Park and in the Yaeyama Islands.

Based on X-ray videography and anatomical observations, the group found that the crabs produced sounds by vertically vibrating the scaphognathite (located behind its jaw), drumming it against the walls of the chamber containing the scaphognathite.

The crabs were found to produce various levels of sounds at various intervals for different occasions, such as mating and when captured.

Lead researcher Shinichiro Oka (Okinawa Churashima Foundation) said, “The coconut crab has an interesting biology; for example, its claws can pinch with a force 100 times its own weight, and has a life expectancy of nearly 50 years.

Higher public interest helps with conservation, so we will continue to study it.”

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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