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Strange creatures in Vietnam: tree-climbing fish, water-fearing crabs

Thoi loi fish, or giant mudskipper, is one of the strangest fish species on the planet. A man in Ca Mau raises the fish as if it is a pet, while colorful ornamental crabs are raised by a man in Hanoi who earns hundreds of millions of dong a month.
Crab climbs tree

Fish that climb trees

The giant mudskipper is a species of the Oxudercidae family. They mostly live in mangrove forests, on coastal alluvial soil or the riverside, or burrow dens in mangrove forests. In Vietnam, the fish species is mostly found in Ca Mau.

The fish is called ca thoi loi because the eyes are as big as a head, which makes them appear ugly. Their bodies are brown with white spots, with two black stripes from eyes to tails.  

The fish can run and climb trees quickly thanks to two strong front fins, which can act as a pair of hands. They live both on land and in water, swim fast, and are good at digging dens.

Because of their original structure, the fish is listed as one of the six strangest animals on the planet. Giant mudskippers are used as raw material for processing many specialties, which have the unique features of the Mekong Delta and Ca Mau in particular.

Its features, which are not found in saltwater aquatic species, make the fish special. Some people raise the fish at home as pets.

Le Van Vo, 33, in Dam Doi district of Ca Mau province, has been raising the fish in his pond for three years.

In 2019, he dug a pond in front of his house. Mudskippers are very agile in the wild, but they are also shy, so it is very difficult to catch them. He can only catch several fish each time.

At times, Vo had nearly 200 fish in his pond. However, as there were too many, they fought each other for food. He decided to let out many fish and now keeps only 60 fish.

Loved like children by the owner, the fish have grown well and are fatty. One fish weighs four kilograms.

Vo considers the fish his pets and doesn’t intend to sell or raise them for food. He plans to expand the farming scale to attract more visitors.

Crabs are afraid of water, climb trees

In Vietnam, ca thoi as well as cua dua, or coconut crab, (Birgus latro) have the ability to climb. 

The crab is born in water and when it grows up, it prefers to live on land. As they live on land, they develop a respiratory system with lungs, causing the crab's gills to degenerate. As a result, the crab loses the ability to breathe in the sea, becoming afraid of water.

The crabs usually live on coconut tree roots and trunks. They are omnivorous, eating garbage, young tree cores, tree stumps, and dead fish, mice and birds.

It is a large crab species (equivalent to king crab) with a have large cephalothorax, 10 legs and a heavy set of claws that are considered armor. Thanks to its strong legs and claws, it can climb up to the top of the coconut tree, tearing off the shell to eat it's flesh.

Despite its appearance which scares many people, the crab is a delicious and nutritious specialty. Its meat tastes like lobster.

Most coconut crabs sold at restaurants are imported from Japan. But people can find the crabs in the central region. The price is VND500,000 per kilogram (one cua dua weighs 2-4 kilograms).

Raising ornamental, colourful crabs is in vogue

Raising aquatic creatures as ornamentals is now fashionable. Crabs are most favored. The mountain crab has hundreds of species in different colors and sizes.

Ha Xuan Loc, 34, in Hoang Mai district in Hanoi, raises and sells colourful crabs, including the vampire crab (Geosesarma sp).

Loc said in 2016 he began learning how to raise ornamental crabs, which were then unfamiliar in the Vietnamese market. Now his two production workshops put out 1,000 crabs which bring revenue of more than VND100 million. His crabs are also exported to China, Taiwan and Thailand.

Ornamental crabs are not invasive alien species. To get the colors he wants, Loc uses soil in the areas where they live and builds artificial caves. When eating, the crabs eat the soil and have different colors.

Hanh Nguyen


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