Where ‘the ground becomes a moving carpet’

Christmas Island crabs

Whenever I want to get a surefire “Ew!” from my daughters I need only suggest we visit a certain locale – any locale, as long as it’s at least 25 miles away and seems remote to them – where, I tell them, there is a reported hatch of snakes/skinks/giant leopard frogs/etc., a hatch so vast and all-encompassing that when one views the surrounding countryside, it appears that the ground is moving.

Unfortunately, I have actually yet to come across such a scene, and, as difficult as it may be to believe, my girls are beginning to doubt the veracity of my claims.

However, were I able to get them to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all would be good again.

Christmas Island, more than 1,400 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, is populated by 100 million crabs, many of which are Christmas Island red crabs.

Late each year, “the ground becomes a moving red carpet as tens of millions of endemic red crabs leave their forest burrows and scuttle to the shore in order to spawn,” according to Slate magazine.

This migration often causes havoc for the residents by blocking traffic on the island’s roads, according to Geoscience Australia, a website produced by the Australian government.

“This abundance of land crabs is not matched by any other island and has been described as one of the wonders of the natural world,” according to Geoscience Australia.

Once they’ve reached the water, the mothers release their crab embryos where they can survive and grow until they are able to live on land.

Christmas Island red crab

Christmas Island red crab

Because the island, roughly 78 square miles in size, has but 1,500-2,000 humans, most crabs have little problems with people.

There are other, much smaller foes, however.

During their journey to the sea, which can take several weeks, the crabs must avoid yellow crazy ants.

“The ants, which, true to their name, move frantically and erratically when disturbed, were accidentally introduced to Christmas Island in the 1920s,” accord to Slate.

“Since then they have formed super-colonies, wreaking havoc on the island’s ecosystem,” it added. “Red crabs, despite being much larger and possessing an exoskeleton, are no match for the jets of lethal formic acid that swarms of ants spray into the crabs’ eyes. Thousands of crabs die this way every year.”

The Australian government estimates that 10-15 million red crabs have been killed by yellow crazy ants since the latter’s introduction. Officials are working to eradicate the ant.

The photo up top shows Christmas Island red crabs moving across a road in their quest to reach the ocean. Unless you suffer from otraconophobia, try typing “Christmas Island red crabs” into the Google images search; it’s quite fascinating.


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