CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Australia — If you’re not a fan of crustaceans, you might want to take a detour.

On a tiny island populated by approximately 2,000 people of mainly Australian, Malaysian and Chinese descent, a natural wonder of the world takes place between October and January each year.

That is when more than 45 million red crabs slowly march cross the length of Christmas Island on their way to the ocean to spawn. But catching them in the act can be the luck of the draw.

At 3 a.m. one late November day last year, about a half-dozen locals, a German tourist and myself boarded a boat belonging to Rob Muller, the Island National Park Chief Ranger who took us for a spin around the island in search of pregnant crabs ready to spawn.

Despite some dry weather, a few showers persuaded these majestic bright red land crabs to come out of hiding from the cool shade of the forest and risk the trek to the jagged ocean cliffs.

And boy, did we find them. The rocks were covered in hundreds of thousands of female crabs.

“The females usually do this Elvis-shake with their hips before they deposit a sac of eggs in the ocean,” Muller said. “It’s quite a thing to see.”

Each female’s sac can contain 100,000 eggs. The crabs usually wait until high tide, when the eggs will wash out to sea after hatching upon contact with the water.

Using spotlights and flashlights in the dark, we watched nature unfold for several hours until the sky turned pink at dawn. Some spectators scooped up the eggs into their palms to carefully watch as the microscopic beings swam around.

For the German tourist, witnessing the spawning was on her bucket list. She had saved up for years to come to Christmas Island for the event.

In a few weeks, the baby crabs come back ashore and begin their own journey back across the island.

What is particularly unique about the spawning is the growing respect and acceptance from people who live on the island. Drivers will swerve around crabs on roads, helping to reduce the estimated 400,000 crab fatalities per season.

Locals and national park staff build bridges and underground pathways to help the red crabs migrate, and will gently clear crab-filled roads with rakes to avoid unfortunate run-ins with traffic.

The Christmas Island red crabs are protected, and anyone caught deliberately running them over or killing one can be fined up to $5,000.

“In the last 10 years, there has been a real shift in how people see them now,” Muller said. “It took a lot of work from previous rangers. It’s just one of those unusual events. Where you see nature programmed to do what it does. There’s nowhere else in the world.”


— The only way to get to Christmas Island is through Virgin Australia, which flies in a few times a week but frequently cancels flights. See

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