Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eviction Notice

or, Even Hermits Have Lawyers.

Hermit crabs* are generally very polite to each other, even across species** lines. They greet their neighbours when they meet, tolerate their whims and eccentricities, queue up for food and housing. They rarely squabble, and then it's only a few seconds worth of waving pincers and tentacles; no-one is harmed. If little Joe wants to sit on Big Red's shell to get a better view, well then, Red will sit still and not try to shake him off.

And when there is a property dispute, they solve it legally, under the supervision of the law.

I happened to glance into the aquarium as a case came to its close. Three hermits were lined up, shell to shell; two in small, white shells; the third was the largest of all the hermits.

There was no time to run for the camera. The court reporter was on duty, instead.

The big hermit -- Big Red -- was holding onto one white shell. Its resident lay still, submitting to examination by the third, who was poking his front legs and antennae into the middle shell. Big Red made no move, but watched closely.

Suddenly, the challenger (#3***) backed off to arms' length, and gave the other's shell four or five sharp jerks, back and forward. As soon as he stopped, #2 scrambled out of the shell, and stood naked against the wall. Another pause while Big Red gave the empty shell a quick once-over, then #3 slipped out of his shell and into his neighbour's. He flipped it over; it seemed to fit.

And then the evictee came forward again, and slid into the abandoned shell. Big Red released the middle shell and stepped back. #2 turned and left quickly.

Usually, when hermits move into a new shell, they spend a few minutes afterwards, double-checking it. They stretch their second set of legs back and over the shell, taking its measure. They squirm down deep inside, then stretch out again. If all seems well, they keep the shell, but as often as not, they change their minds and switch back.

#2 aborted this procedure by leaving so abruptly with the old shell, and #3 didn't seem too happy with the results:

"He never told me there were no closets!"

What's done is done. Big Red went about his business, and after a while, #3 did, too.

*My hermits, anyhow. They're good Canadians.
**These three are Grainy Hand hermits; they share the tank with Hairy hermits.
***I usually name my animals for ease of description, but these mid-sized hermits look like twins. And they switch shells frequently. I can't tell them apart. Maybe I'll give one red toenails next time I have them out of the water.

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Nature Blogs.


  1. Hi, beautiful pictures.. i liked..

  2. I really love your posts! This is engaging, funny, and fun!

  3. Fantastic observation. Wish moving house was quite so simple for us mind.


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