This hand-colored etching of a land crab in the Bahamas is from the 1743 edition of Mark Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (volume 2). An English naturalist and artist, Catesby published the first comprehensive study of the flora and fauna of the English colonies of North America. In his accompanying text, Catesby described how prolific the land crab was in the Bahamas and other tropical locales: "in some Places the Ground being almost covered with them, so thick they are, when out of their Holes that the Earth seems to move as they crawl about … They have been known to enter in at a Window, and on a Bed, where People who never before had seen any, were not a little surprised." He went on to write that some of the land crabs, especially the black ones, were poisonous; nonetheless, they were an important source of food for slaves. "In some of the Sugar Islands they are eat [sic] without Danger, and are no small help to the Negro Slaves, who on many of the Islands would fare very hard without them."
Catesby arrived in Williamsburg in 1712 and stayed there for lengthy periods with his sister, Elizabeth Catesby Cocke, and her husband, Dr. William Cocke, while he began his botanical and zoological collecting trips in Virginia and the West Indies. On returning to England in 1719, his illustrations were impressive enough to earn him funding for a second expedition to the colonies, which lasted from 1722 until 1726. Catesby resettled in London, learned how to etch his own plates based on his watercolor drawings, and produced his monumental book in stages over a period of nearly twenty years, from 1729 to 1747. King George III purchased Catesby's original watercolors in 1768.
Citation: The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. QH41 .C26 1731. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.