knows what follows the first heavy summer shower – crabs.
land crabs, Cardisoma guanhumi, fill the childhood memories of almost every
older Caymanian. But what younger generations hear most is: “They were bigger
in my day.”
dad looked at it and said, ‘That crab is small compared to the ones in my days
as a young boy,’” said Allan Ebanks, recalling the biggest crab he caught as a
child. “He would say, ‘Their big claws would be so big they couldn’t hold it up
for long. They would just drag it.’”
there is no concrete data on the population size of white land crabs in the
Cayman Islands, years of habitat loss and deaths due to cars have taken their
toll on this species.
the moment there is simply no existing legislation that we could utilise to
secure protection for land crabs,” said Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department
of Environment, “and this is true of many endemic and indigenous species of
animals and for all plants.”
the National Conservation Law be passed, however, the white land crab would be
afforded certain protections that could return the population to sustainable
National Conservation Law would, for the first time, provide a local legal
framework for the protection of species such as the land crabs,” she said.
land crabs are burrowing crabs that make their homes in areas where their holes
can intersect with the water table and enable them to sustain at least one
litre of water at the bottom of their burrow.
these large crabs prefer a herbivorous diet, they are opportunistic omnivores
and occasionally feed on insects, carrion and even other crabs. Their food of
choice, however, is Red or White Mangrove and Buttonwood leaves.
depletion of mangrove wetlands and viable burrowing grounds due to increased
development is therefore another factor affecting the survival rates of these
Migration and Breeding
people do not see white land crabs other than during the month following the
first torrential summer rain. This is because the reproductive cycle of these
crabs is heavily reliant on, and sensitive to, weather patterns and lunar
can take four years for a female white land crab to reach sexual maturity and,
once she does, she will have to make the dangerous migration down to the shore
to release her eggs into the salt water.
the way, these crabs must face two of the biggest threats to their survival:
cars and hungry locals.
to the draft action plan for the land crab in the Biodiversity Action Plan for
Cayman, which was published by the Department of Environment last year,
“bisection of migration by roads is likely the most significant cause of
decline in this species.”
plan also stated that the impact of locals harvesting crabs for food is also
presumed to be negatively impacting the species: “a culturally important local
food source within the Cayman Islands, Cardisoma is probably subject to
current, the land crabs are listed on Part II of the schedule for protection,
which means they are subject to a Species Conservation Plan,” explained Timothy
Austin, deputy director of research and assessment at the DoE.
the National Conservation Bill is passed, white land crabs would be subject to
research regarding their habitat and migration routes, possible bans on the
capture of any egg-carrying females, maximum harvest limits and minimum carapace
(body) size limits. The plan even calls for research into the possibility of “under
road conduits and animal corridors at key crossing sites along migratory
addition to the white land crab, two smaller species of black land crabs also
inhabit Cayman: Gecarcinus lateralis and Gecarcinus ruricola. The latter black
land crab houses an endemic and endangered fruit fly, Drosophila endobranchia,
in their eyes.