Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A rapport* of hermits

Hermit crabs are absurdly misnamed. Here's what says about "hermit":

her·mit  [hur-mit]
1. a person who has withdrawn to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion.
2. any person living in seclusion; recluse.
3. Zoology . an animal of solitary habits.

#1 is irrelevant; as far as I can tell, hermit crabs are not religious. #2 refers to humans, but the idea of seclusion is there. #3 would be the definition applied. But hermit crabs are anything but reclusive; "solitary habits" do not suit their lifestyle. They're gregarious, love company, and do not do well alone. One website even mentions that they appreciate a mirror for added company; I will have to supply mine with one.

When we find them on the beach, it is usually in a crowd, sometimes of a hundred or more, including several distinct species; they do not seem to have any tribal leanings.

To stock my tank, I brought home several handfuls of hermits; now there are about 16 hermits, hairy hermits, grainy hand hermits, and greenmarks**, living in the aquarium. (There may be more; every now and then a shell like a grain of rice starts walking about; it's been borrowed by a hermit so small I didn't realize it was there.)

Stacked hermits

These are four of the larger ones, hanging out together. When I first saw them, all three smaller ones were piled on top of the weight lifter in the big whelk shell. He is a grainy hand hermit, recognizable by the red antennae, and the bluish legs. The other three are hairies (dotted-line antennae, possibly blue knees); greenmarks have red antennae and orange stripes on the legs, and are much smaller.

The shore crabs, now; they are the true hermits. Each one lives alone in his little hideaway; coming face to face with another, they raise their pincers in a challenge: "Back off!"

* A collective noun for a group of crabs is "cast"; a cast of crabs. I couldn't find one for hermits, so I've invented one.

**Hairy hermits are Pagurus hirsutiusculus; Grainy hands, Pagurus granosimanus; Greenmarks, Pagurus caurinus.


  1. Very cool! I knew they hung out together when they wanted to change shells but had no idea they were so gregarious. Here's what I learned about their shell-changing routine. The person who did the study obviously enjoyed these crabs:

  2. Yes, I saw that post today. Such a pretty hermit it has, too!

    I've written about the shell changes; the last time was the middle of last month.

  3. A rapport. That's too cute. Clamber would work, too, as they seem to mill about in the crowd, clambering over things (including each other, obv.). But, rapport is delightful. I love that teeny tiny shells start walking = your hint that there's more. =)

    I have mirrors in the coop for 1 of my hens who coops solo (but can see her neighbors & free ranges w/them)--she does much better with mirrors. Gregarious galliformes.


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