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Christmas Island National Park and Red Crab, Australia

Red crab eating dry leaves on Christmas Island (author: John Tann, 2011).


Gecarcoidea natalis, the Christmas Island red crab ( user:Takamaxa, 2006).
Gecarcoidea natalis, the Christmas Island red crab ( user:Takamaxa, 2006).


Christmas Island, officially the Territory of Christmas Island, is an external territory of the Commonwealth of Australia located in Christmas Island, comprising the island of the same name. It has a population of 2,072 residents, who live mainly in settlements on the northern tip of the island, including Flying Fish Cove (also known as Kampong), Silver City, Poon Saan, and Drumsite. Around two-thirds of the island’s population are Malaysian Chinese, with significant numbers of Malays and European Australians as well as smaller numbers of Malaysian Indians and Eurasians. Several languages are in use, including English, Malay, and various Chinese dialects, while Buddhism is the primary religion, followed by three-quarters of the population.

The first European to sight the island was Richard Rowe of the Thomas in 1615. The island was later named on Christmas Day (25 December) 1643 by Captain William Mynors, but only settled in the late 19th century. Its geographic isolation and history of minimal human disturbance has led to a high level of endemism among its flora and fauna, which is of interest to scientists and naturalists. 63% of its 135 square kilometres (52 sq mi) is an Australian national park. There exist large areas of primary monsoonal forest. Phosphate, deposited originally as guano, has been mined on the island for many years.







Christmas Island on the globe, Southeast Asia centered (author: TUBS, 2011).
Christmas Island on the globe, Southeast Asia centered (author: TUBS, 2011).


Christmas Island located at 10°30′S 105°40′E, the island is about 19 kilometres (12 mi) in greatest length and 14.5 km (9.0 mi) in breadth. The total land area is 135 square kilometres (52 sq mi), with 138.9 km (86.3 mi) of coastline. The island is the flat summit of an underwater mountain more than 4,500 metres (14,800 ft) high, which rises from about 4,200 m (13,780 ft) below the sea and only about 300 m (984 ft) above it. The mountain was originally a volcano, and some basalt is exposed in places such as The Dales and Dolly Beach, but most of the surface rock is limestone accumulated from coral growth. The karst terrain supports numerous anchialine caves. The summit of this mountain peak is formed by a succession of tertiary limestones ranging from the Eocene or Oligocene up to recent reef deposits, with intercalations of volcanic rock in the older beds.

Steep cliffs along much of the coast rise abruptly to a central plateau. Elevation ranges from sea level to 361 m (1,184 ft) at Murray Hill. The island is mainly tropical rainforest, 63% of which is national park land. The narrow fringing reef surrounding the island can be a maritime hazard.

Christmas Island lies 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) northwest of Perth, Western Australia, 500 km (310 mi) south of Indonesia, 975 km (606 mi) ENE of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and 2,748 km (1,708 mi) west of Darwin, Northern Territory. Its closest point to the Australian mainland is 1,560 km (970 mi) from the town of Exmouth, Western Australia.


Map of Christmas. This map was produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (user: Ras67, 2010).
Map of Christmas. This map was produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (user: Ras67, 2010).


Christmas Island has 80 kilometres of shoreline but only small parts of the shoreline are easily accessible. The island’s perimeter is embodied by sharp cliff faces, making many of the island’s beaches difficult to get to. Some of the easily accessible beaches include Flying Fish Cove (main beach), Lily Beach, Ethel Beach, and Isabel Beach, while the more difficult beaches to access include Greta Beach, Dolly Beach, Winifred Beach, Merrial Beach, and West White Beach, which all require a vehicle with four wheel drive and a difficult walk through dense rainforest to access.

As Christmas Island is located toward the southern edge of the equatorial region, climate is tropical and temperatures vary little throughout the months. The highest temperature is usually around 29 °C (84 °F) in March and April, while the lowest temperature is 23 °C (73 °F) and occurs in August. There is a dry season from July to November with only occasional showers. The wet season is between November and May, and includes monsoons, which are downpours of rain at random times of the day. Tropical cyclones may also occur in the wet season, bringing very solid winds, rain and enormous seas. These tropical cyclones only happen occasionally, for most of the time during the wet season is damp, subside weather.







Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary, an English East India Company vessel, named the island when he sailed past it on Christmas Day, in 1643. The island was included on English and Dutch navigation charts as early as the beginning of the 17th century, but it was not until 1666 that a map published by Dutch cartographer Pieter Goos included the island. Goos labelled the island “Mony” or “Moni”, the meaning of which is unclear. English navigator William Dampier, aboard the English ship Cygnet, made the earliest recorded visit to the sea around the island in March 1688. He found it uninhabited. Dampier gave an account of the visit which can be found in his Voyages. Dampier was trying to reach Cocos from New Holland. His ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction, arriving at Christmas Island twenty-eight days later. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the west coast). Two of his crewmen became the first Europeans to set foot on Christmas Island. Daniel Beeckman made the next recorded visit, chronicled in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East-Indies.


Poon Saan is the second largest town on Christmas Island (user: Zantastik, 2006).
Poon Saan is the second largest town on Christmas Island (user: Zantastik, 2006).


The first attempt at exploring the island was in 1857 by the crew of the Amethyst. They tried to reach the summit of the island, but found the cliffs impassable.

During the 1872–76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist John Murray carried out extensive surveys.

In 1886, Captain John Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, having discovered an anchorage in a bay that he named “Flying Fish Cove”, landed a party and made a small collection of the flora and fauna. In the next year, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited it for ten days, accompanied by J. J. Lister, who gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection. Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Murray for examination were many of nearly pure phosphate of lime. This discovery led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on 6 June 1888.

Soon afterwards, a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (some 900 kilometres (560 mi) to the south west) to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos. Phosphate mining began in the 1890s using indentured workers from Singapore, Malaya and China. John Davis Murray, a mechanical engineer and recent graduate of Purdue University, was sent to supervise the operation on behalf of the Phosphate Mining and Shipping Company. Murray was known as the “King of Christmas Island” until 1910, when he married and settled in London.

The diversity of the settlers’ native tongues and cultures has influenced the island’s own culture, as evidenced by the range of ethnic festivals held throughout the year. Today most residents are Chinese followed by Australian / Europeans and Malay. All are permanent residents of Australia and the majority hold Australian citizenship.

Though English is the official language there are many residents who generally communicate in Malay or one of the four Chinese dialects. The earliest settlers spoke English and Cocos Malay, a unique version of Bahasa Indonesia which has been isolated from the mainstream language for over 150 years. Early arrivals from China mainly spoke Cantonese. Many early place names around the island are Cantonese words – such as Poon Saan- literally meaning half way up the hill.

Post war arrivals who came from Penang introduced other Chinese languages including Hakka, Hainese, Hokkien and Teochew, whilst those from Singapore introduced Mandarin. Bahasa Malayu is widely spoken by the Malay Community.

Because English was not a prerequisite for employment, a sizeable proportion of todays community is not fluent in English and many residents still converse in their native tongue. The influx of tourists has had an impact on the island’s language. Indonesian is frequently spoken along with many of the Chinese languages. Thai, Japanese, German and a few other Europen languages are sometimes heard.

Despite its mixture of races, languages and religious beliefs, the community works in harmony, freely sharing and borrowing from each others cultures. Religious tolerance is evident from the number of Chinese temples-Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and others as well as a Christian church, Muslim Mosque and a Baha’i Centre. Many religious and cultural festivals are observed including Christmas, Easter, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.

The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate commissioners and district officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office through the Straits Settlements, and later the Crown Colony of Singapore. Hunt (2011) provides a detailed history of Chinese indentured labour on the island during those years. In 1922, scientists attempted unsuccessfully to view a solar eclipse from the island to test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Christmas Island produces the 199th most exports in the world, as of 2014. The country’s top exports include phosphatic fertilizers ($15.5M), calcium phosphate ($12M), and computers ($464K). Their top imports include refined petroleum ($6.39M), cars ($2.11M), and air conditioners ($1.07M).





Christmas Island National Park


Christmas Island National Park is a national park occupying most of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean southwest of Indonesia. The park is home to many species of animal and plant life, including the eponymous red crab, whose annual migration sees around 100 million crabs move to the sea to spawn. Christmas Island is the only nesting place for the endangered Abbott’s booby and critically endangered Christmas Island frigatebird, and the wide range of other endemic species makes the island of significant interest to the scientific community.

Christmas Island is well known for its biological diversity. There are many rare species of animals and plants on the island, making nature-walking a popular activity. Along with the diversity of species, many different types of caves exist, such as plateau caves, coastal caves, raised coastal caves and alcoves, sea caves, fissure caves, collapse caves and basalt caves; most of these are near the sea and have been formed by the action of water. Altogether, there are 42 caves on the island, with Lost Lake Cave, Daniel Roux Cave and Full Frontal Cave being the most well-known. The many freshwater springs include Hosnies Spring Ramsar, which also has a mangrove stand. The Dales is a rainforest in the western part of the island and consists of seven deep valleys, all of which were formed by spring streams. Hugh’s Dale waterfall is part of this area and is a popular attraction. The annual breeding migration of the red crabs is a popular event. Fishing is another common activity. There are many distinctive species of fish in the oceans surrounding Christmas Island. Snorkeling and swimming in the ocean are two other activities that are extremely popular. Walking trails are also very popular, for there are many beautiful trails surrounded by extravagant flora and fauna. 63% of the island is national park making it one of the main attractions to experience when visiting.

Concerns were expressed in the early 1970s about the effect of phosphate mining on the flora and fauna of Christmas Island. A particular focus was on the habitat of Abbott’s booby (Papasula abbotti), which appeared in danger of extinction. In 1974 a governmental committee examined the environmental impact of mining and other commercial activities and advised on measures to protect the island. The committee’s recommendation that an area of the island be set aside for conservation was implemented in a series of measures culminating in the establishment of the Christmas Island National Park on 21 February 1980 under the terms of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975.

The park initially covered the south-west corner of the island, and was extended in 1986 and 1989 to include most of the rainforest on the island. Today the park covers approximately 85 km2 (33 sq mi), or 63% of the island.




F l o r a


There are about 200 species of native flowering plants on Christmas Island. Some 16 plant species are endemic. The distribution of plants on the island can be related to soil depth, moisture retention and exposure to and distance from the sea. The island environment may be classified into the following broad habitats; these are the marine environment, shoreline platforms, beaches, sea cliff zone, terrace forest on the poorer soils of the lower terraces, shallow soil rainforest on the higher terraces, simple rainforest on the deeper plateau and terrace soils, limestone scree slopes and pinnacles, mangrove forest, perennially wet areas, caves, sinkholes and various habitats resulting from clearance and other disturbances. There are no mangroves on the park’s coast. However, a stand of the normally estuarine mangrove species, Bruguiera gymnorhiza and B. sexangula, is found approximately 50 metres (160 ft) above sea level, at Hosnies Spring.

A dense rainforest has evolved in the deep soils of the plateau and on some terraces. The forests are dominated by 25 tree species. Ferns orchids and vines flourish on the branches in the humid atmosphere beneath the canopy. The 135 species of flora include 16 which can only be found on Christmas Island. There are fewer vines and understorey shrub plants than in the related neighbouring Indo-Malaysian rainforests. Red Crabs eat the leaf litter, abundant tree fruits and seedlings lying on the forest floor.






The land crabs and sea birds are the most noticeable animals on the island. To date 20 terrestrial and intertidal crabs (of which 13 are regarded as true land crabs, i.e., only dependant on the ocean for larval development) have been described. The diversity and abundance of land crabs is not matched by any other island and it has been named “the crabbiest place in the world” and the “kingdom of the crabs”. Huge robber crabs, known elsewhere as coconut crabs, are also found here and are capable of opening and devouring coconuts with their strong claws.

The island is also a focal point for sea birds of various species. Eight species or subspecies of sea birds nest on the island. The most numerous is the Red-footed Booby that nests in colonies, in trees, on many parts of the shore terrace.The widespread Brown Booby nests on the ground near the edge of the seacliff and inland cliffs. Abbott’s Booby (listed as endangered) nests on tall emergent trees of the western, northern and southern plateau rainforest. The Christmas Island forest is the only known nesting habitat of the Abbott’s Booby left in the world.

The endemic Christmas Island Frigatebird (listed as critically endangered) has three well-defined nesting areas on the north-eastern shore terraces and the more widespread. Greater Frigatebirds nest in semi-deciduous trees on the shore terrace with the greater concentrations being in the North West and South Point areas.

The Common Noddy and two species of bosuns or tropic birds with their distinctive streamer tail feathers also nest on the island. Of the ten native land birds and shorebirds, seven are endemic species or subspecies. Some 76 vagrant or migrant bird species have been recorded on the island from time to time.




Red Crab (Gecarcoidea natalis)


The Christmas Island red crab, Gecarcoidea natalis, is a species of terrestrial crab endemic to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean (author: DIAC images, 2011).
The Christmas Island red crab, Gecarcoidea natalis, is a species of terrestrial crab endemic to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean (author: DIAC images, 2011).


The island is particularly noted for its prodigious populations of Christmas Island red crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis), whose mass migrations at spawning time may number over a hundred million individuals. The bright red carapaces and sheer density of crabs make their routes to the sea observable from the air. Nonetheless, the populations of red crabs are threatened by the arrival of the invasive yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes). The ant was accidentally introduced between 1915 and 1934, and without any native ant species to compete against, rapidly formed ‘supercolonies’ of extremely high density. Populations of the ant have been observed bringing down red crabs over a hundred times their combined biomass. A. gracilipes is thought responsible for killing up to 30 million of the park’s crabs.


Robber Crab as known as Coconut Crab on Christmas Island (source: Mark Richards, 2004).
Robber Crab as known as Coconut Crab on Christmas Island (source: Mark Richards, 2004).


While the red crab is Christmas Island’s most numerous crab, the island also hosts the world’s largest population of coconut crab (Birgus latro), the world’s largest land invertebrate. There may be as many as one million coconut crabs on Christmas Island. It is also home to several species each of hermit crab, grapsids and gecarcinucoidea.





Yellow Crazy Ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes)


A dead lizard being dragged away by Yellow Crazy Ants (author: Dinakarr, 2011).
A dead lizard being dragged away by Yellow Crazy Ants (author: Dinakarr, 2011).


The yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) is a species of ant, introduced accidentally to northern Australia and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, that has caused ecological damage in both locations and now found in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. It is colloquially called “crazy” because of its erratic movements when disturbed. Its long legs and antennae make it one of the largest invasive ant species in the world.

Like several other invasive ants, such as the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), the big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala), the little fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata), and the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile), this is a “tramp ant”, a species that easily becomes established and dominant in new habitat due to traits such as aggression toward other ant species, little aggression toward members of its own species, efficient recruitment, and large colony size. Also known as the long-legged ant or Maldive ant, it is on a list of “One Hundred of the World’s Worst Invasive Species” formulated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It has invaded ecosystems from Hawaii to Seychelles, and formed supercolonies on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), named for its color and “crazy” gesticulation when provoked, has taken a massive toll on the Christmas Island crab population. This invasive ant builds supercolonies with astounding densities of 2,000 ants per square meter. Not only do these ants take over land previously used by the crabs, but also eat the crabs themselves. 

The ants are opportunists, consuming a variety of things from honeydew melon to invertebrates and small vertebrates. The ants spray Formic acid as their weapon to other animals with it, blinding and then killing them within a few hours. 

As a result, crab numbers are declining, which is a big problem for the ecology of the rainforest. The forest depends on crabs for several “presents”: the turnover of soil while building burrows, the dispersal of seeds from their diet, and the fertilization of the soil from the crab’s droppings.







There are six species of reptile native to the park, of which five are endemic: the giant gecko (Cyrtodactylus sadlieri), the Christmas Island gecko (Lepidodactylus listeri), the forest skink (Emoia nativitatis), the blue-tailed skink (Cryptoblephanus egeriae) and the pink blind snake (Ramphotyphlops exocoeti). The foreshore skink (Emoia atrocostata) is native to the park, but is also to be found on other islands of the Indian Ocean. All have been showing decline in recent years.

A further five species of reptile have been reported, but all were introduced by human activity: the barking gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), house gecko (Gehyra mutilata), black blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), wolf snake (Lycodon aulicus capucinus) and grass skink (Lygosoma bowringii).







A picture of a male Christmas Island flying-fox (Pteropus melanotus natalis), taken on Christmas Island (author: Welbergen, 2015).
A picture of a male Christmas Island flying-fox (Pteropus melanotus natalis), taken on Christmas Island (author: Welbergen, 2015).


There are three species of mammal native to the park: the Christmas Island shrew (Crocidura trichura), listed as critically endangered, and possibly extinct; the small Christmas Island pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi), listed as endangered and showing a rapid decrease in numbers; and the Christmas Island flying fox (Pteropus melanotus). The black rat (Rattus rattus) and house mouse (Mus musculus) have been introduced. Feral cats and dogs are also common, and stray into park territory.








There are over 100 species of birds, of which ten are endemic. Many birds are passing vagrants, such as the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Others, like the lesser frigatebird (Fregata ariel), are more regular visitors. Bird populations are threatened due to the invasive yellow crazy ant, and reports have suggested that the ant has attacked hatchlings and harassed adults in their nests. All endemic bird species have been placed on the critically endangered list.



Abbott's booby, unique to Christmas Island (author: orangeisland, 2008).
Abbott’s booby, unique to Christmas Island (author: orangeisland, 2008).



Brown booby on Christmas Island (user: Muriel Gottrop, 2005).
Brown booby on Christmas Island (user: Muriel Gottrop, 2005).



Brown Noddy Anous stolidus nesting (author: Duncan Wright, 2006).
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus nesting (author: Duncan Wright, 2006).



Red-footed Booby, Sula sula, on Christmas Island (author: USFWS, 2005).
Red-footed Booby, Sula sula, on Christmas Island (author: USFWS, 2005).



Red-billed tropicbird, Phaethon aethereus mesonauta, with chick (author: Charlesjsharp, 2014).
Red-billed tropicbird, Phaethon aethereus mesonauta, with chick (author: Charlesjsharp, 2014).



The Christmas imperial pigeon, (Ducula whartoni), is a large pigeon, mainly dark grey in colour with an iridescent sheen (author: John Gerrard Keulemans (1842–1912), PD-US, 1887).
The Christmas imperial pigeon, (Ducula whartoni), is a large pigeon, mainly dark grey in colour with an iridescent sheen (author: John Gerrard Keulemans (1842–1912), PD-US, 1887).







Park management


The park is managed by Parks Australia, a division of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Parks Australia’s activities are mandated by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Its duties include protection of the park’s natural areas, its lifeforms and genetic resources, to maintain ecological diversity, and to manage visitor access for educational, cultural and recreational purposes. It latest management plan (2002) listed control of the yellow crazy ant as its highest priority. The park administration has a staff of 17, and operates out of an office in Drumsite on the northern side of the island.






Christmas Island Red Crab


The Red Crab of Christmas Island (source: https://ocean.si.edu).
The Red Crab of Christmas Island (source: https://ocean.si.edu).


The Christmas Island red crab (Gecarcoidea natalis) is a species of land crab that is endemic to Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean.Although restricted to a relatively small area, it has been estimated that 43.7 million adult red crabs once lived on Christmas Island alone, but the accidental introduction of the yellow crazy ant is believed to have killed about 10–15 million of these in recent years. Christmas Island red crabs are well known for their annual mass migration to the sea to lay their eggs in the ocean.

Christmas Island red crabs are rather large crabs with the carapace measuring up to 116 millimetres (4.6 in) wide. The claws are usually of equal size, unless one becomes injured or detached, in which case the limb will regenerate. The male crabs are generally larger than the females, while adult females have a much broader abdomen (only apparent above 3 years of age) and usually have smaller claws. Bright red is their most common color, but some can be orange or the much rarer purple.






Migration and Breeding


Like most land crabs, red crabs use gills to breathe and must take great care to conserve body moisture. Although red crabs are diurnal, they usually avoid direct sunlight so as not to dry out. Despite lower temperatures and higher humidity, red crabs are almost completely inactive at night. Red crabs also dig burrows to shelter themselves from the sun and will usually stay in the same burrow through the year. During the dry season, they will cover the entrance to their burrows with a loose wad of leaves to maintain high humidity in their burrow and will virtually disappear for 3 months until the start of the wet season. Apart from their breeding season, Red crabs are solitary animals and will defend their burrow from intruders.

Each crab lives in its own burrow, and must avoid being caught under direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Such exposure can kill a crab that must maintain its body moisture above certain levels. Dry season on the island, around the middle of the year, forces the crabs to remain in their burrows for up to several months, while sealing themselves (and the humidity) in with leaves at the entrance. 

As the yearly monsoons approach (beginning around November), the air becomes moist, allowing the crabs to travel farther without losing much needed body moisture. 

At this point, any sexually mature crab (around four years of age and up) will partake in a long migration to the coast to spawn. Famed naturalist and TV host Sir David Attenborough has called it one of the greatest wildlife spectacles. The sheer number of crabs crossing the island has made this one of the most famous animal migrations.

Male crabs leave first, traveling over 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and taking between 5 and 7 days depending on where their burrows are on the island. Upon arrival, they return to the sea to gain back the moisture they lost during the long journey, and then begin to dig densely packed burrows. The density of burrows is high (1-2 per square metre and fighting occurs between males for burrow possession.

A few days later, adult females arrive to the terraces to mate with males and mating occurs, usually in the privacy of the burrows that males have dug and fought for. As mating, and fighting, abates, males dip again and begin returning inland. They move quickly, reaching the plateau in only 1-2 days.

The females stay a couple of weeks to lay their eggs, incubating them in their abdominal brood pouch as they develop. The females produce eggs within 3 days of mating and remain in the moist burrows on the terraces for 12-13 days while they develop. The eggs are held in a brood pouch between their extended abdomen and thorax. A single female can brood up to 100,000 eggs.


Red crab females with the eggs on their abdominal brood pouch (source: ocean.si.edu).


In the morning and late afternoon around the last quarter of the moon, the egg-laden females descend from the terraces to the shoreline. They pack into shaded areas above the waterline at densities of up to 100 per square metre in places. The females usually release their eggs into the sea toward dawn, around the turn of the high tide. Release of eggs may occur on 5-6 consecutive nights during the main breeding migration. After the first two days, eggless females may be seen crossing plateau roads, kilometres from the shore.

Red crabs on the shore line (source: https://ocean.si.edu).
Female crabs line up at the edge of the water and release their eggs into the ocean. (source: https://ocean.si.edu).


Spawning is highly correlated with the lunar cycle and can happen anytime between September and January. Female crabs wait until the last quarter of the moon, when there is little difference between low and high tide, to line up at the edge of the water and release their eggs into the ocean. The crab eggs hatch in the water, but many will be snatched up and eaten by fish. After a month, those that do survive develop into small crabs, which then make the journey back into the forest. 

For most of the year, red crabs can be found within Christmas Islands’ forests, however, each year they must migrate to the coast to breed. The beginning of the wet season (usually October/November) allows the crabs to increase their activity and stimulates their annual migration. The timing of their migration is also linked to the phases of the moon. During this migration red crabs abandon their burrows and travel to the coast to mate and spawn. This normally requires at least a week, with the male crabs usually arriving before the females. Once on the shore, the male crabs excavate burrows, which they must defend from other males. Mating occurs in or near the burrows. Soon after mating the males return to the forest while the females remain in the burrow for another two weeks to lay their eggs. At the end of the incubation period the females leave their burrows and release their eggs into the ocean. This occurs precisely at the turn of the high tide during the last quarter of the moon. The females then return to the forest while the crab larvae spend another 3–4 weeks at sea before returning to land as juvenile crabs.






Life cycle


The eggs released by the females immediately hatch upon contact with sea water and clouds of crab larvae will swirl near the shore until they are swept out to sea, where they remain for 3–4 weeks. During this time, the larvae go through several larval stages, eventually developing into shrimp-like animals called megalopae. The megalopae gather near the shore for 1–2 days before changing into young crabs only 5 mm (0.20 in) across. The young crabs then leave the water to make a 9-day journey to the centre of the island. For the first three years of their lives, the young crabs will remain hidden in rock outcrops, fallen tree branches and debris on the forest floor. Red crabs grow slowly, reaching sexual maturity at around 4–5 years, at which point they begin participating in the annual migration. During their early growth phases, red crabs will moult several times. Mature red crabs will moult once a year, usually in the safety of their burrow.






Red crab eating dry leaves (author: John Tann, 2011).
Red crab eating dry leaves (author: John Tann, 2011).



Christmas Island red crabs are opportunistic omnivorous scavengers. They mostly eat fallen leaves, fruits, flowers and seedlings, but will also feed on dead animals (including other red crabs), and human rubbish. The non-native giant African land snail is also another food choice for the crabs. Red crabs have virtually no competition for food due to their dominance of the forest floor.








The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is one of the red crab's few natural predators (author: FGBNMS/Eckert, 2011).
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is one of the red crab’s few natural predators (author: FGBNMS/Eckert, 2011).


Adult red crabs have no natural predators on Christmas Island. An exploding population of the yellow crazy ant though, which is an invasive species accidentally introduced to Christmas Island and Australia from Africa, is believed to have killed 10–15 million red crabs (one-quarter to one-third of the total population) in recent years. In total (including killed), the ants are believed to have displaced 15–20 million red crabs on Christmas Island. During their larval stage, millions of red crab larvae are eaten by fish and large filter-feeders such as manta rays and whale sharks which visit Christmas Island during the red crab breeding season.


Manta alfredi foraging, manta ray ram feeding - swimming against the tidal current with its mouth open and sieving zooplankton from the water (author: Jaine FRA, Couturier LIE, Weeks SJ, Townsend KA, Bennett MB, 2012).
Manta alfredi foraging, manta ray ram feeding – swimming against the tidal current with its mouth open and sieving zooplankton from the water (author: Jaine FRA, Couturier LIE, Weeks SJ, Townsend KA, Bennett MB, 2012).


Early inhabitants of Christmas Island rarely mentioned these crabs. It is possible that their current large population size was caused by the extinction of the endemic Maclear’s rat, Rattus macleari in 1903, which may have limited the crab’s population.






Surveys have found a density of 0.09–0.57 adult red crabs per square metre, equalling an estimated total population of 43.7 million on Christmas Island. Others have estimated that about 120 million are found on this island, but the basis for that claim is unclear.




Relationship with Humans


The human inhabitants of Christmas Island have become more tolerant and respectful of the crabs during their annual migration (source: www.christmas.net.au).
The human inhabitants of Christmas Island have become more tolerant and respectful of the crabs during their annual migration (source: www.christmas.net.au).


During their annual breeding migration, red crabs will often have to cross roads, sometimes as many as 3 or 4, to get to their breeding grounds and then back to forest. As a result, red crabs are frequently crushed by vehicles and sometimes cause accidents due to their tough exoskeletons which are capable of puncturing tires. To ensure both the safety of crabs and humans, local park rangers work hard to ensure that the crabs can safely cross the island to the coast. Park rangers set up aluminum barriers called “crab fences” along heavily traveled roads. The crab fences funnel the crabs towards small underpasses called “crab grids” so that the crabs can safely cross under the roads. In recent years, the human inhabitants of Christmas Island have become more tolerant and respectful of the crabs during their annual migration and are now more cautious while driving, which helps to minimise crab casualties. Further, “a five-metre-high bridge has also been constructed at one point along the road to help the crabs move across the island and continue their migration.”




Getting There


– Flights

You can fly to Christmas Island direct from Perth. Obtaining a visa from most countries is now as easy as buying your ticket – your travel agent can assist you. Current flight information for flights to and from Christmas Island are as follows:

Quick links:

Flights to/from Perth – Virgin Australia

Charter Flights to/from Jakarta

Flight schedules are subject to change – please check with Virgin Australia at  www.virginaustralia.com.au for current schedules and further details.


Jakarta – Christmas Island – Jakarta

Flights Jakarta – Christmas Island – Jakarta will operate on the following schedule on a Garuda Charter commencing 20 August 2016.


Every Saturday – November 2016

GA7000 Depart Jakarta 13:00 Arrive Christmas Island 14:10
GA7010 Depart Christmas Island 14:45 Arrive Jakarta 15:55

Every Saturday – December 2016 – April 2017

GA7000 Depart Jakarta 11:55 Arrive Christmas Island 13:15
GA7010 Depart Christmas Island 14:05 Arrive Jakarta 15:30

Departure International Terminal 2 Jakarta,

Soekarno-Hatta International Airport

For further information and flight bookings: 

Indian Ocean Experiences, Christmas Island or Travel Exchange Christmas Island




– Cruise Ships

Christmas Island is well positioned for cruise ships travelling between south east Asia and Fremantle to have a break and allow passengers to sample the delights of Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Tourism Association has developed a cruise ship information brochure – please click here to email the Tourism Association to obtain a copy.





– Visiting Yachts

The Port of Christmas Island and the community welcomes visiting yachts to call at Flying Fish Cove, and make use of the fine new deep water moorings each installed in 30 metres of water.







Source :






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