Amelia Earhart Mystery: Was the Lost Pilot Eaten by Giant Coconut Crabs?

Amelia Earhart nearly a decade before she went missing. Getty

On a summer day in 1937, pilot Amelia Earhart took off with her navigator to fly around the globe, and—according to one theory—eventually crash-landed on a remote island in the Pacific where she was eaten by crabs the size of dogs.

According to this unproven theory, coconut crabs on the island of Nikumaroro may have come upon Earhart's body after she crash-landed and dismembered her remains. Parts of a skeleton whose measurements "matched the description of Amelia Earhart" were discovered on Nikumaroro by a British colonial officer in 1940, and then lost to history.

Nikumaroro is teeming with coconut crabs, which make their homes on islands in the South Pacific. The crabs earned their name because, as Charles Darwin recorded, they dismember coconuts with their pincers like nobody's business.

A coconut crab in New Zealand. Sandra Teddy/Getty

With the strongest recorded grip of any animal, the crabs are quite fearsome. As one recent viral video shows, they can skewer seabirds that are much larger than them. With a grip-strength proportional to a human crushing 6 tons, accounts of the crab's pinch are striking.

Describing the experience of being pinched on the palm by a coconut crab while conducting an experiment, one scientist told PBS NewsHour, "While it was only a few minutes, I felt eternal hell."

Some have called the Amelia Earhart theory total nonsense. As one skeptical commenter on an iO9 report put it: "Every credible historian says Earhart's Lockheed Electra ran out of fuel and sank in almost 20,000 feet of water. It's expensive and difficult to look in the deep ocean, but I promise you that's where she'll ultimately be found." She also notes that most of the work investigating this theory comes from the organization TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery), which has been the target of some skepticism.

People love a good mystery. The fact that a well-funded organization centered on solving this one continues its work, and that this exact story has appeared a handful of times in the news cycle in the past five years alone is a testament to the appeal of the unanswered.

Whether or not the Earhart theory is correct, the idea has kept an incredible, terrifying creature in a strange kind of limelight.