Crabs of Guyana & South Pacific

Crabs of Guyana & South Pacific

 by Peter Halder

Crabs of Guyana 

The species of crabs in Guyana include the hermit or soldier crab, buck crab, bunduri crab, sherriger, jumbie crab, scissors crab, square-back crab, mud crab, spider crab, flat or porcelain crab, rock crab, shield- back crab, and the white land crab.

The well-known and popular crabs are the bunduri, buck and sherriger.

Bunduri

The bunduri is the largest crab. Its habitat is in the North West District and the Essequibo Coast. They go on a “march” during the mating season between late August and early September, when with spring tide, they would literally cover the entire beach along the Atlantic Ocean. On the march, they are an army of closely packed creatures walking in their own peculiar gait, pincers (claws) and bodies knocking against each other and making a racket. They were once found only on the seaside or along river banks but with their increase in numbers, they began climbing up hills, sandlots and even go into people’s backyards.  

The bunduri is caught and shipped in barrels or straw baskets to Georgetown for sale in the main markets – Stabroek, Bourda, La Penitence and Kitty. They were sold by the strings, six on a string. Crabs are not bought or sold dead. The claw of each was tied with a straw string and the string was then tied to nails on top the circular edge of the wooden barrel. The customer inspected the various strings and made his or her selection. An unusual sight was the crabs trying to crawl over each other’s back to reach the top of the barrel and escape. The bunduri was a specialty for curry crab, sometimes for crab soup with eddo, callaloo, cassava and plantain, for making “crab backs” and for boiled crab.

Buck or Blue Crab

The second popular specie was buck crab. It is the one whose flesh is most used for making “crab backs” a popular cafe delicacy. The crab was boiled, the flesh removed from the body, two claws and legs, cooked with onions, spring onions and bread crumbs and topped with a small, de-seeded red wiri wiri pepper. The back (top) was thoroughly cleaned and the cooked and seasoned flesh placed in it. Sometimes a thin slice of lemon was served to squeeze its juice over the cooked meat before eating. Crab cakes were a specialty in the good old days at Tang’s Bakery and Cafe on Robb Street near Camp Street and before that at the Salvation Army cafes on Camp Street, between Charlotte and Regent Streets, and on America Street.

The buck crab came in different colours – blue, grey, purple legs. They are also called blue crabs. The underside was white. It is a land crab but spends its time on the sea beaches only during the mating season and out of the water. It digs a large hole in the sand,  using its claws. It rushes into the hole when it senses danger. The hole contains a certain amount of water so it’s shell could remain damp. The buck or blue crab is also used in soups, curry, to make crab backs or boiled and the flesh eaten with butter.

Sherriger

The other popular crab is the sherriger. It is a water crab and lives mostly in inland lakes, trenches, and rivers. It is a great swimmer using its flattened and fringed legs as paddles. The claws and shell (back) has sharp points at the ends. Its colour range from green, black, grey, reddish brown and scarlet. Kids in Albouystown caught them in the then Sussex Street trench by using a saltfish tail or the innards of a chicken, as bait tied to a string. The string with the bait was let down into the trench and its movement indicated the sherriger had grabbed the bait and was trying to eat it. The string was pulled up slowly and as soon as the crab appeared clinging to the bait, a mokra basket cover or small seine was pushed under it and the sherriger was flipped to the roadside.

Hermit or Soldier

The hermit or soldier crab is found along the coastline. It has a soft, edible back. For safety, it seeks out hard, unoccupied shell molluscs and burrow into them. As it grows larger, it finds a larger empty shell.  Here is a hermit crab changing its shell home:

Catching Crabs:

Catching crabs required a certain expertise. The job was mostly done at nights when the crab was supposed to be in its hole and not roaming around in the darkness searching for food. A few catchers just pushed their hands in the hole and grabbed the back of the crab. Others put a bright light near the hole which caused the crab to leave and is caught. Of course the job is easy during the “crab march” or mating season when they are out in numbers. Crabs are also caught in the nets of fishermen.

Crabs of the South Pacific

A large crab in Fiji is a specie that lives in the mangrove swamps. Qari, pronounced ngari, is the Fijian word for crab. The swamp crab is flat and the adult measures about 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. There were sharp pointed spikes along its large claws and the edges of its hard shell back. Tiko’s Floating Restaurant, anchored on the Pacific Ocean near the seawall, served Curried Crab with rice or crab cooked in coconut milk and served with tavioca (cassava) or dalo (dasheen) boiled in coconut milk. There is another popular crab that is shaped like Guyana’s buck crab but is cream coloured has two bright brown circles on its back. The sherriger specie is also there but is large.

In the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, Tonga, there is the coconut crab, the largest crab in the world(Wikipedia). The popular recipe is the crab cooked in coconut milk and served with dalo. The crab has one enormous claw and a smaller one. It likes to eat the kernel of the ripe coconut, among other food items. If none is available on the ground, the crab climbs the tree and uses its giant claw to wrest a ripe nut from the bunch. It descends, finds the coconut and then uses its claw again to open it, break the shell and pick out pieces of the kernel and eat it. The coconut crab is also found on the island of Taveuni in Vanua Levu, Fiji (332 islands) but is protected.

End

The Amazing Red Crab of Christmas Island !

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