Creature Feature: Holy Crab! The crucifix crab Charybdis feriata (Linneaus, 1758)

Andrew Hosie's blog | Created 7 years ago

This large and colourful species of swimming crab is wide ranging in the tropical Indo-West Pacific from East Africa the Persian Gulf through to Indonesia and Japan, and throughout most of Australia. The crucifix crab lives in shallow sandy or rocky areas. In parts of its range, such as India, the crucifix crab forms a substantial commercial and recreational fishery but in Australia this species is quite rare and isn’t caught in large numbers by Australian crabbers.

The crucifix crab gets its name from the cross shaped pattern on the carapace. The scientific name feriatus, literally translates to “holy day”. The cross that this crab bears has made it the subject of Christian mythology. The Jesuit priest, Saint Francis Xavier, while in Indonesia is said to have lost his crucifix during a storm. Details are a bit sketchy from source to source, but the crucifix was possibly lost while attempting to quell the storm. The next day as St Francis was near the shore, a crab crawled up to him carrying his crucifix between its pincers. St Francis reportedly blessed the crab and since this time the crabs have had the cross pattern on their carapace. Some Catholic groups believe the crab is holy and the shells are often sold as religious curios or possibly as good luck charms.

The crucifix crab Charybdis feriatus shown from on top and face-on
The crucifix crab Charybdis feriatus (Linneaus, 1758)
Photo by Andrew Hosie
Image copyright of WA Museum