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IN THE OPEN
The outer world, from which we cower into our houses, seemed after all a habitable place; and night after night a man's bed, it seemed, was laid and waiting for him in the fields where God keeps an open house.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
THE ROBBER CRAB
BY FREDERICK O'BRIEN
One of the fairylands of the world is the island country of the South Seas. There one finds animals and plants strange to us who live in the temperate zone. The following description of a crab was written by a traveler who loves the outdoors and who knows how to describe what he sees.
HESE crabs climb coconut trees to procure their favorite food. They dote on coconuts, the ripe, full-meated sort. They are able to enjoy them by various endeavors demanding strength, cleverness, and an 5 apparent understanding of the effect of striking an object against a harder one and of the velocity caused by gravity. Nuts that resist their attempts to open them, they carry to great heights, to drop them and thus break their shells.
It was a never-failing entertainment on my walks in the 10 Paumotas to observe these creatures, light-brown or reddish in color, more than two feet in length, stalking about with their bodies a foot from the ground, supported by two pairs of central legs. They can exist at least twenty-four hours without visiting the water, of which they carry a 15 supply in reservoirs on both sides of the cephalothorax, keeping their gills moist.
They live in large deep burrows in the coconut groves, which they fill with husks, so that the natives often rob them to procure a quick supply of fuel. These dens are 20 contrived for speedy entry when pursued. Terrifying as they appear when surprised on land, they scuttle for safety either to a hole or to the sea, with an agility astounding in
a creature so awkward in appearance. Though they may be seen about at all hours of the day, they make forays upon the coconuts only at night.
When darkness descends and all is quiet, the robber crab ascends the tree by gripping the bark with his claws. 5 The rays of my electric flash light have often caught him high over my head against the gray palm. Height does not daunt him. He will go up till he reaches the nuts, if it be a hundred feet. With his powerful nippers he severs the stem, choosing always a nut that is big and ripe. 10 Descending the palm, he tears off the fibrous husk, which, at first thought, it would seem impossible for him to do. He tears it fiber by fiber, and always from that end under which the three eyeholes are situated. With these exposed, he begins hammering on one of them until he has enlarged 15 the opening so that he can insert one of the sharp points of his claw into it. By turning his claw backward and forward he scoops out the meat and regales himself luxuriously.
This is his simplest method, along the line of least resistance; but let the nut be refractory, and he seizes it by a 20 point of a claw and beats it against a rock until he smashes it. This plan failing, he will carry the stubborn nut to the top of the tree again and hurl it to the earth to crack it. And if at first he does not succeed, he will make other trips aloft with the husked nut, dropping it again and again until at 25 last it is shattered and lies open to his claws.
It is said that if a drop of oil be placed on the long and delicate antennæ of these crabs they die almost instantly. We have a somewhat similar rumor with respect to salt and a bird's tail. Seldom does a robber crab linger to be 30 oiled, and so other means of destroying him, or, at least, of guarding against his depredations, are sought. With
the rat, who bites the flower and gnaws the young nuts, this crab is the principal enemy of the planter. The tree owner who can afford it nails sheets of tin or zinc around the tree, a dozen feet from the earth. Neither a rat nor 5 crab can pass this slippery band, which gives no claw hold. Thousands of trees are thus protected, but usually these are in possession of white men, for tin is costly and the native is poor.
The ingenious native, however, employs another means Io of saving the fruit of his groves. He climbs the palm
trunk in the daytime, and forty feet above the ground encircles it with dirt and leaves. On his mat for the night's slumber, he smiles to think of the revenge he shall have. For the crab ascends and passes the puny barrier to select 15 and fell his nuts, but when in his backward way he descends, he forgets the curious bunker he went over and, striking it again, thinks he has reached the ground. He lets go, and smashes on the rocks his crafty foe has piled below.
- White Shadows in the South Seas.
1. Who is the author of this selection? From what book is it taken? Why does this description belong to this section of your reader?
2. Describe the robber crab as to appearance, size, and habits of living.
3. How many methods does this crab use to get coconuts? Explain each.
4. How do the natives keep him from doing damage? What way can the natives not afford to employ?
5. Study the illustration on page 12. Is it a good picture to illustrate the text? Discuss.
(Taken from O'Brien's White Shadows in the South Seas by permission of the publishers, The Century Co.)