On a crab trail

Karnataka is home to 93 varieties of crabs. (Photo by the author)

It was the monsoon and I was travelling with a friend in the vicinity of Siddhara grama, a hamlet in Malnad. The sky was overcast and there were signs of a heavy downpour. We had barely moved along the way when my friend asked me to look a little ahead. A gigantic crab with its pincer raised upward cast a threatening look at me.

The giant crab gave a menacing look, gnashing its sharp teeth. I pressed my feet on one of its pincers. Soon after, I managed to hold two of its pincers and beamed a smile of victory. It was then that I saw nearly 16 crabs, its kith and kin, lined up nearby. There were both female and male crabs in the group. These creatures were moving around looking for food and a place to stay since their nests were filled with rain water. It is when they come out of their nests that they are caught and end up as delicacies on our plates. Also, when crabs move towards agricultural fields, they land up in bamboo traps laid to catch them.

The crabs were trying to crawl their way up a hill in Siddhara grama. The village is at a distance of 13 km from Karwar. The crabs had cleverly avoided the path frequented by human beings and had chosen a desolate path.

But what was the reason for their journey? August-September is the breeding time for crabs. Female crabs carry eggs or little crabs on their abdomen and male crabs accompany the female crabs. A paucity of food arises during these months as their staple food, which includes algae, fish and rotten meat, get washed away by the overflowing rivers in the rainy season. So they move in search of food towards land and end up in traps laid by humans to catch them.

Crabs have a thick shell covering their body called the carapace and also have sharp pincers. These creatures are mostly found in the Karavali and Malnad regions. Certain types of crabs live in fresh water while some live on land and in places that have hot climatic conditions.

Male crabs have both big and wide pincers and they use the wide pincer to move around while the other is used for self-defence and to attract female crabs. Female crabs have wide and round abdomens. Crabs with these features belong to the libinia emarginata and mictyris platycheles family. In Karnataka, apart from these two types, portunidae also exist in large numbers. Crabs are a common sight on the banks of River Bhadra in Shimoga, Varada and Sharavathi in Sagar and Shalmala in Sirsi.In Malnad, they are known as ajjedi and karedi (types of crab). These creatures also use their pincers as tools of communication. Crabs which can digest algae can survive on any kind of food.

There are 6,793 crab varieties and around 93 varieties can be found in Karnataka alone.
Deciding not to disturb their journey, we took the other side of the bridge. But a group of young men had already located the crabs and were preparing to trap them using jute ropes. Many crabs were already piled up in the baskets of these youngsters while several others lay helplessly trapped. 

(Translated by Bhumika Rajan)

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