Colossal crabs may hold clue to Amelia Earhart fatechevron-down

Photograph by Rob Lyall, National Geographic Channel
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Does the secret of the famed aviator’s disappearance lie in the underground haunts of the world’s largest land invertebrate?

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The coconut crabs on the island of Nikumaroro are longer than a reporter’s notebook, wider than an archaeologist’s trowel, and roughly the same size as an explorer’s hiking boot. As the largest land invertebrate on the planet, coconut crabs can measure up to three feet across and clock in at over nine pounds. In short, they are too big.

Members of the National Geographic-sponsored expedition currently searching the island for traces of Amelia Earhart know to keep a wary eye out for the enormous crustaceans—their claws exert more force than most animals' bite.

During the day, when the scientists do most of their work on the Pacific atoll, the crabs are easily avoided. Those that emerge from their burrows into the intense tropical heat spend their time in the shade of the coconut palms, say, or among the branches of the ren trees. (Yes, the crabs can climb.)

But at night? “The crabs close in on you,” says John Clauss, a member of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and a veteran of more than ten of the organization’s expeditions to the island. “If you shine a flashlight, outside the shadow ring there are a thousand crabs.” Or so it can seem. Clauss has learned not to sleep on the ground.

Coconut crabs play a key role in TIGHAR’s hypothesis about what happened to Amelia Earhart after she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937, on the third-to-last leg of their world flight. The group posits...

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