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The Crab as a symbol for the constellation of Cancer originated in ancient Babylon. Egyptians, on the other hand, would often associate the Cancer constellation with a turtle or tortoise. Many Egyptians knew the constellation as "the Stars of the Water", symbolized by a pair of turtles.
In either case, the similarities between the two creatures are striking. Aside from have a very similar shape, both have a hard external shell that protects their soft and sensitive insides. Additionally, both are sensitive water creatures.
In Greek mythology the Cancer Crab is known for having been sent by the Goddess Juno to battle against Hercules. The Crab was placed among the stars by Juno after the battle for its service to the goddess.
The Cancer glyph is believed to represent the breasts, which along with the womb are ruled by the sign of Cancer. This would emphasize the motherly, family oriented, nurturing nature of the sign.