I went to lunch with the Post’s oped editor, Lou Ann Frala today and she was freaking out. She saw her first land crab. “I nearly ran off the road — I couldn’t take my eyes off this thing. It was going across the road and I couldn’t believe how HUGE it was! I went home and looked it up – it’s a land crab! Have you ever seen one?”
One? Oh yeah! Hundreds of them over the years. And always, this time of year. For those who’ve never encountered one close up, they are pretty scary indeed — they stand up about six inches off the ground, and can span a good 10 inches claws-out. We’re not talking dinky little crabs here — but big crustaceans with googly eyes and that menacing pincer.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale with a canal right down the street, we had them all over the neighborhood this time of year. They like the mangroves along the coastal areas throughout the Caribbean. I mostly associate them with their stink — these things are vile once you run over them — and you can’t help it when they are 40 deep in the road. Then they bake on the highway. Mercy!! The crunch and smell is disgusting — baked crab guts.
My favorite story comes from a more recent encounter that my buddy from Rochester, NY, had with them. Terry Williams is one of the Telecom guys who maintains the Post’s very essential phone system. He’s known for his prowess with the professional cappucino maker that’s in the back room of Telecom; a Friday afternoon treat for certain lucky Post-ers.
Back to the crabs: After Hurricane Francis blew through in ’04, it pretty much took out The Post’s distribution warehouse in Port St. Lucie. Williams was charged with going up there in the aftermath, a trial on its own, and salvaging any phone equipment he could from the wreckage.
According to Williams, “The whole place was pitch black. I went in and heard these noises — skittery, clicky sounds — I figured someone was in the back trying to steal stuff. I turned on my flashlight and the whole place was moving — pretty much the whole floor. It took me a few minutes to realize what it was — hundreds of land crabs all over the place! It was like being in some horror flick!”
It scared him at first, but once he realized they were going to run from him, he was OK with it. “They would challenge with that waving claw if you cornered them,” he says. “There were thousands more out in the field in front of the building. It really was something out of the Twilight Zone.” Attack of the Crab Monster, no doubt.
As kids, we’d mess with them — the dogs would tell us where they were by barking their heads off at a bush or a pile of rocks. We knew better than to squish them since they’d stink up the place. So we’d corner them and get them to latch onto a stick — oftentimes, they could crack right through one, since the force of that fighter claw is something to reckon with. We’d fling them into the yard of the curmudgeon guy across the street, or if we felt like it, would drop them into a bucket and haul them back down to the canal where they created huge burrows on the bank — they didn’t like to be in the water, but they would dig down to where the tide would come into their holes and keep them wet. Sometimes we’d have crab fights — they circle each other like boxers on stilts, and crazily wave those attack pincers in a “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!!!!” kind of motion when put into a closed space together.
It was always the full moons of September and October that brought them out – crab breeding season. So we thought of them as the harbinger of Halloween – and big rains. (You could always count on rain at Halloween in South Florida — that’s another story.)
You can eat them, though we never did. They’re popular in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. They’re protected from July 15-Oct. 31; you can harvest them after that; up to 20 in Florida per day. Weird crab trivia: They’re mostly vegetarians, but eat a few bugs.