The Halloween Crabs of Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is full of animal life. Green iguanas bask by the beaches and parakeets fly in the clear skies: but I’ll always remember the sight of the Halloween crabs meeting their deaths on the road.

My brother and I found the Coca Cola bus station in seething San Jose, and took the four-hour journey to to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. We arrived in Manuel Antonio at night; the bustling strip lit up with neon restaurant signs.

The next day we walked to the national park- a thick rainforest where the calls of howler monkeys echo through the canopy. We followed the tour in front of us, and the guide spotted a bright green tree frog hiding under a leaf. A three-toed sloth made his way slowly across a telephone wire above us, with that contented smile sloths have.

We found a hidden beach rimmed with rock pools and sat down to bask in the sun. We were joined by a troupe white-headed capuchins, who feasted on leaves above us.

Later that evening, we were walking down the road by the beach to find a place to eat. We turned a corner and heard a strange rustling. It was as if the whole undergrowth was swarming with insects, coming alive with clicks and scuffles and rasps and crackles. But what emerged from the foliage by the hot tarmac were not insects, but crabs

Halloween crabs: beautiful, with their obsidian backs, bright red legs and purple claws. They darted across the road, like shimmering, scuttling hands. 

We stood mesmerised by the colourful bodies of these little creatures.

But a moment later, a car came speeding round the corner and drove straight over the carpet of crabs. There bodies crunched under its wheels.

Some of them lay waving their legs in the air until another car came to finish them off. The road was littered with their corpses. It was almost impossible for a crab to cross before another car appeared. We could only bear to watch for a few minutes, but even in that time, less than a quarter of them made it to the other side.

The saddest thing was that when the crabs heard the cars coming, they stopped and raised themselves up on their hind legs, waving their claws angrily at the cars. I imagine this tactic works pretty well against another crab, but it’s not much good against a 1996 Ford Fiesta hitting you at 40 miles an hour.

Early next morning, we watched the street sweeper clear the bodies from the road, as if the crabs were fallen decorations from a party that had taken place the night before. I hoped that enough of them had made it to the beach to continue their ancient ritual in the light of the moon.

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Halloween crabs, also known as moon crabs and harlequin land crabs, are found in the mangroves, sand dunes and rainforests along the Pacific Coast - from Mexico to Panama. These nocturnal crabs live in burrows in the forest, but need to return to the ocean to breed. They choose to make this ancient journey when the moon is full and pulls the tide to its highest point. The arrival of the Halloween crabs is said to signal the beginning of the rainy season.

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