by Jules Cremer
Have you ever seen the classic horror movie, “Psycho” by Alfred Hitchcock? If you have, you may remember the bathroom scene where the girl is taking a shower. All of a sudden, the shower curtain is pulled back as she turns to the camera and screams. During her bloodcurdling distress, a series of high-pitched notes is played that signals her demise. Fade to black. End scene.
The music that is played during that scene always plays through my head whenever I visit an aquarium and see a Japanese Spider Crab. These behemoths of nature are the largest arthropods that are living today. From leg to leg tip, Spider crabs measure a length of twelve and a half to thirteen feet! Their carapace, or body “shell”, can measure up to sixteen inches in diameter. That’s over a foot! Anyone who has visited a marine facility will almost instantly recognize these strange and somewhat terrifying creatures.
But are these crabs truly dangerous? Are they a creature we should be warned about? Should they be completely avoided? Like in the show Mythbusters, I’m here to debunk the myth and legend surrounding Japanese Spider Crabs. What may be something from someone’s worst nightmare is really just a very large arthropod who is part of our Earth’s oceans. I would be crabby too if someone labeled me a monster and freak of nature.
In order for us to go forward, we must look into the past of this weird and wonderful animal. The Japanese Spider crab was originally discovered in 1836 by Coenraad Jacob Temminck. The Japanese Spider Crab was given the scientific name Maja kaempferi. Temminck observed and noted that the claws of the spider crab could cause serious injury along with how fast it could attach to a human appendage. This may have been what spawned the crab’s reputation for being dangerous and loathsome.
In reality, these crabs are actually scavengers and not hunters. They walk along the seabed; picking up tasty morsels of decaying matter as they scuttle along. At times, they may stop at the fast food joint of the ocean and pick up a tasty kelp or algae burger. On occasion, they will splurge and go on a fine dining spree of small marine invertebrates that are an easy catch. There used to be tales told among sailors of Japanese Spider crabs grabbing men, dragging them underwater and consuming them whole. Since these arthropods are slow moving and bulky, the chances of them snatching and eating a mariner is very unlikely to be true. However, since they are scavengers it is more believable that they would consume the body of a dead sailor after it had drowned and sunk to the seafloor.
These arthropods can be found in the Pacific ocean surrounding the Japanese islands. They appear to be common residents off the southern coast of Honshu. In Japan, “Takaashigani” is what the local residents call them meaning, “tall-footed crab.” If you are visiting or living in Japan and are looking for the ultimate seafood experience, then look no further! The Japanese spider crab is collected for food on occasion and is considered a delicacy. They are caught using trawling nets that are dragged on the seafloor. In 1976, 24.7 tons of spider crabs were captured and 3.2 tons in 1985. Unfortunately, populations of spider crabs have dwindled in number and fisherman have to search for them in deeper waters than they used to. These crabs live at depths of up to 1000 ft, but will migrate to waters as shallow as 160-200 ft. during the spring when it is breeding season. It is forbidden to collect these arthropods for food when it is time for them to reproduce.
You don’t have to fly all the way to Japan in order to admire and appreciate these animals. There are marine facilities and aquariums both in the United States and abroad that exhibit the Japanese Spider crab. I personally have had the unique and awesome opportunity to see these creatures at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN; only a three hour drive from my house! However, if you wish to see the King of Crabs, then head to England where you can meet, “Big Daddy” at the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool. With a nine-foot claw span, he holds a world record for being one of the largest crabs ever caught!
We have only explored about 5 percent of the world’s oceans. There is still so much for us to learn and discover what lies beneath the blue. Who knows? Maybe someday a marine biologist or scientist will discover a crab even bigger than the Japanese Spider crab! The more we study and observe strange and mysterious animals, the more we can dispel the myth and legend that surrounds them.
1. “20 Interesting Facts about the Japanese Spider Crab”. ABC’s of the Animal World. http://abcsofanimalworld.blogspot.com/2011/12/20-interesting-facts-about-japanese.html. December 2011. Accessed 11, May 2015
2. “Giant Japanese Spider Crab (Macrocheira kaempferi)”. Tennessee Aquarium. http://www.tnaqua.org/our-animals/invertebrates/giant-japanese-spider-crab. Accessed 11, May 2015.
3. “Meet the World’s Largest Crab!”. Sea Life Blackpool. https://www.visitsealife.com/blackpool/plan-your-visit/default/bigdaddy.aspx
1. Photographer unknown (Popular Science Magazine-June 1920)
2. Dave Thompson/PA Wire