Invasion Of The Soldier Crabs


Remember this? December 2016, at the end of the sealed road on the far north east coast of Australia.

And that sign has bugged me ever since. If there is one thing guaranteed to make me want to do something it’s someone telling me I can’t do it. What lies beyond the end of the road? There’s a certain allure to venturing somewhere only a privileged few can go. That and the extra frission of excitement that comes from going off piste, deeper still into the wilderness.

Beyond the 4WD sign the Bloomfield Track continues to Cooktown on the Cape York peninsular. Building it was controversial. The proposed route took it through untouched wilderness sparking protests and blockades in the 1980s. When the road finally opened, in 1984, a more direct route to lessen its environmental impact resulted in some steeper sections where the track simply goes straight up one side of a hill and down the other. No gentle meanders! The road remains partly unsealed presenting something of a challenge in inclement weather. At the height of the wet season it’s often closed altogether.



Cowie Beach, The Bloomfield Track



The Donovan Lookout, Bloomfield Track

..where the World Heritage Daintree rainforest meets the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef. How could I not go? Before leaving England we contacted Mike D’Arcy (here) to arrange a 4WD tour. I have to tell you it was worth every penny. Sorry, Australian cent. Because as well as providing the wherewithal to take us beyond that sign, Mike knows all the best places to see.



Coconut Beach

This is fringing reef, coral reef butting right up to land. The corals higher up the beach, being exposed to air at low tide, are sadly long since deceased and the calcium carbonate structure which once provided their home is now smothered in algae. But you wouldn’t need to go too far out from here to find something recognisable as the Great Barrier Reef.



As at Cape Tribulation, a little farther south, Emmagen Beach hosts the sand bubbler crabs which so mesmerised me the last time I was up this way. You might remember the video from David Attenborough’s Blue Planet (here) and surely it’s worth another view?



Bubbler crabs feed by filtering nutrients out of the sand and then reforming the discarded grains into perfectly round pellets. These are deposited back on the beach in a characteristic fan pattern around each crab burrow.



As the crabs work, against the clock and the next high tide, the individual patterns merge creating a dense mass of sand pellets in great swathes across the beach. But could we find something even more spectacular? At Cowie Beach, on the Bloomfield Track, yes we could.



There are many iconic images of Cowie Beach. It’s a wild and natural place with mangroves growing between the low and high tide lines. This is of course crocodile country. You might even come across the occasional shark..



OK, I know it’s only a baby one. And you have to look hard for it. Because I only just caught it in time. But that’s a dorsal fin, honest.

Eat your heart out Jaws.



Mangroves on the beach



But there’s more.

All the literature I’d read and, indeed, Mr D’Arcy himself, suggested that if we were very lucky we might see some soldier crabs.

They have a number of distinguishing features, not least that they’re one of the very few crab species which walk forwards rather than sideways. They feed in much the same way as the bubbler crabs but with a crucial difference: they don’t like to work alone. No, these guys march across the beach in battalions.



Right turn Clyde.. here they are taking evasive action having seen me coming. Poor things.

If the perceived threat persists the group disbands and each individual legs it in any available direction. Crabs, after all, come well equipped in the leg department. As a last resort each one will abruptly turn itself into a corkscrew, diving and twisting deep down into the sand. In seconds it is as though they were never there.



But the farther we walked out across the beach the more crabs we saw. Suddenly the realisation that there were more than a few. There were thousands. If not tens of thousands. Armies of soldier crabs, everywhere. How lucky were we? It was a moment that will stay with me for a very long time.



Blue soldier crab (Mictyris longicarpus)



A handy reference for size.



Continuing up the track, the Bloomfield River.



And the Wujal Wujal (Bloomfield) Falls.

It’s the end of the dry season right now in Far North Queensland. In a few weeks time these falls will be seriously pounding. The only problem is, unless you have access to a helicopter or a drone, it’ll be a challenge to get to see it.. even in a 4WD. The river reclaims the road. Such is the nature of things in the remote bushland of Australia.



By now it was late afternoon and the light was fading. On our way back down the track we dropped in again on Cowie Beach.

The tide was returning and the soldier crabs had retreated back into their burrows. But the place is still totally surreal. As the beach is so flat and protected by the fringing reef there are no waves as the water finds its way back. It just seeps quietly across the vast expanse of sand, filling each furrow in turn. Every few seconds we need to take a step back. And there is utter silence. Not even a wisp of a breeze.


2018-11-27T20:29:26+00:00November 26th, 2018|Tags: |


  1. janesmudgeegarden November 26, 2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Oh goodness, how wonderful: the patterns in the sand, the soldier crabs, the mangrove photos with the glass smooth sea. All beautiful – and fascinating to learn about the crabs moving like a mini eighteenth century army across across the sand.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 9:57 am - Reply

      Cowie Beach had an otherworldly feel, but then there are so many places in Australia like that! So much to explore, so much to learn. You’re so lucky to have it all on your doorstep.. relatively speaking!

  2. grammapenny November 26, 2018 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    sooooooo cool.. i loved this

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

      Definitely cool! Thanks Penny.

  3. marksgran November 26, 2018 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Wow I Ioved this post. What fabulous photos. I’m going to Australia in February and I now want to go here, but sadly probably won’t as we’re visiting my son in Sydney and its a bit far to commute! Thanks for this brilliant post. x

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:04 am - Reply

      You’re very welcome! There are some wonderful places to go within range of Sydney and you’ll have a great time. I’d love to go into the Blue Mountains. We’re thinking of a day trip, as suggested by Jane above, but I wish we had longer to do it justice.

  4. Alison November 26, 2018 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Absolutely wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your pictures from this great experience.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

      My pleasure. Thankfully it was a relatively cool day, it’s been getting warmer and warmer ever since. Temperature records were broken yesterday in Cairns. It would have been an uncomfortable experience walking out across those beaches at 40C+!

  5. Sandra Flood November 26, 2018 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    This is an Australia most of us never see, so thank you.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

      As a general rule the more remote it is, the more I like it. Which does tend to take us to some out of the way places. Although maybe less so on this trip. I would have loved to go to the north west (Top End) but the timing wasn’t right for that. Like the Bloomfield Track most of it will soon be under water!

  6. Anne November 26, 2018 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed your first postcard! Isn’t nature amazing. Hope you are having a great time.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:29 am - Reply

      Nature really is amazing. I was thinking just tne same today in the rainforest, looking at the way the very tall trees have buttressed themselves. It’s either for additional support or for holding water close to the roots, but either way it’s a clever adaptation. Pics to follow.

  7. plantbirdwoman November 26, 2018 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    Fascinating! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:30 am - Reply

      My pleasure Dorothy.

  8. Kris P November 26, 2018 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    What a treat to find your travel post this morning! The bubbler crabs fascinate me – they’re the artists of the crab world. However, my favorite photo in this wonderful series is that of the Bloomfield River – what a gorgeous site (and sight)! I’m glad you visited when the roads are still passable.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:43 am - Reply

      We’ve had extreme heat over the last couple of days: 43.6C in Cairns yesterday. Well you know I love the heat but possibly even I have found my limit! I now know what you’be been experiencing.

  9. smallsunnygarden November 27, 2018 at 2:39 am - Reply

    I can’t very well imagine a more perfect vacation/adventure. All those wonderful vistas of nature in its beauty and freedom…

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:46 am - Reply

      It’s magical isn’t it. I dread to think what impact climate change will have on these special places and all the creatures which depend on them.

  10. Torrington Tina November 27, 2018 at 5:42 am - Reply

    Now that is an experience, I bet you did not meet many people en route. Just thousands of crabs, brilliant!

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Very few people on the Track itself. The magic of these remote places, and possibly us choosing to travel to the Far North in low season, is having everywhere almost entirely to yourself.

  11. Mary November 27, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    A fabulous excursion. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:57 am - Reply

      It certainly was. Our planet is an amazing place.

  12. snowbird November 27, 2018 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Just loved those crabs, and WOW, some simply stunning scenery! A little green here, continue to enjoy!xxx

    • Jessica November 27, 2018 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      The crabs were awesome. And we were indeed lucky to see them. Mike D’Arcy said there were none to be seen at all yesterday. The critters have really come out for me on this leg of the trip. See next post!

  13. CherryPie November 27, 2018 at 11:42 pm - Reply

    Oh WOW! It looks so amazing. I love the patterns the crabs make with their sandballs, they are creating their own artwork!

    • Jessica November 28, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Yes, it is known as crab art! If you follow the link to the David Attenborough video there is a time lapse of the patterns emerging across the beach.. it is amazing!

  14. Beth @ PlantPostings November 28, 2018 at 1:46 am - Reply

    Amazing photos of an amazing place! What an experience!

    • Jessica November 28, 2018 at 10:44 am - Reply

      The wet season is just starting to get going and we’ve witnessed some spectacular thunderstorms over the last couple of days. But the area so needs the rain.. rainforest trees are wilting! We’ve been here for record high temperatures too. Never before has Cairns seen three days over 40C in a row.

  15. germac4 November 28, 2018 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Great post Jessica… I thought of you when I heard of the heat wave in Far North Queensland. Glad it didn’t slow you down too much. Very interesting to hear of the 4WD tour with Mike D’Arcy. We will be going up that way in winter, so I’ll follow that up. I love the soldier crabs marching alonike an army. Hope all goes well & that you can avoid floods, heat waves etc … typical summer weather!

    • Jessica November 28, 2018 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Mike D’Arcy would be delighted. He is a superb guide, knowledgeable and nice with it. We booked 7 hours and they just flew by.
      The whole area north of the Daintree River is just fabulous Gerrie, you must definitely see it. Apart from the glorious beaches there are boardwalks where you can go deep into the forest and even the mangroves when they are flooded at high tide. It is truly awesome, another tip from Mr D’Arcy. Ask him about tide times and which is likely to be the best day while you’re there.. that will have a bearing on both what you see in the mangroves and the likelihood of the soldier crabs appearing. Although the mangroves you can do by yourself, you just need to get the timing right. Next post or two will cover it, if I can tear myself away long enough to write it!

  16. Mary November 28, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Hoping you are safe as I just read about some of the terrible fires up in Queensland.

    • Jessica November 28, 2018 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      Mary you are so kind, thank you for thinking of us. We’re fine, if rather hot! The heat is unprecedented for this part of Queensland at this time of year. It is also so very dry. The rainforest is wilting, it desperately needs rain. There was a spectacular thunderstorm on Tuesday which gave a little rain so hopefully the rainy season is about to begin. I’m not surprised there are bush fires given the conditions but it’s an awful situation for those involved. I feel for them.

  17. Linda from Each Little World November 28, 2018 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    Mind-boggling and mind-boggling beautiful!

    • Jessica November 28, 2018 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      Both of those! Thanks Linda.

  18. Jacqueline Mumford November 30, 2018 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    The patterns that the crabs make are amazing …… you would think that a human had done them wouldn’t you ? Wonderful images. XXXX

    • Jessica November 30, 2018 at 7:08 pm - Reply

      And it all washes away with the next tide, only to start building up again once the tide recedes. It’s fascinating.

  19. Carrie Gault December 1, 2018 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    this was awesome – thank you for sharing your fabulous adventure!

    • Jessica December 3, 2018 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Quite unexpected for me too. But it all adds to the excitement. Wild creatures are a law unto themselves. Sometimes they appear, sometimes not. It makes it all the better when they do!

  20. Jenni December 2, 2018 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    I often visit the Oregon Coast, were the waves coming crashing in from the cold Pacific Ocean. I love to sit on the beach and listen to the waves. Your description of the soundless tide coming in was very striking in contrast to my experience of visits to the ocean. What a magnificent place to visit. Thank you for sharing your trip with us 🙂

    • Jessica December 3, 2018 at 11:31 am - Reply

      We’ve moved on from Queensland now to the south coast of Australia. The contrast is striking, particularly as it is very windy here at the moment. We sat and watched awesome waves crashing in this afternoon. Much more like the Oregon you describe.

  21. Peter Herpst December 6, 2018 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Fascinating. I’m so glad you got to see the soldier crabs. Loved the link!

    • Jessica December 8, 2018 at 8:28 pm - Reply

      That David Attenborough video is lovely. The bubbler crabs are much smaller than they appear on screen, minuscule in fact. But it is great fun. I spent ages trying to spot one do its bubbling thing. But mostly what you see are the patterns building up across the sand.

  22. Nell December 14, 2018 at 6:46 am - Reply

    I started with your most recent post, with the pounding surf and roaring wind and waves in Victoria, and read back to here; what a difference!

    • Jessica December 14, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

      Hello Nell and welcome.
      Very different indeed. I am sitting here tonight with a blanket over my knees and longing for the 43C back again. It has got very cold in the south of Australia, for summer. Hopefully just a one day occurrence!

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