Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Weight-lifting hermits

Val, the big anemone, has been eating snails. They're good workers in the aquarium, keeping the sand plowed and aerated, and cleaning up the crumbs that the crab always scatters. But they take their breaks, sliding up the glass walls, nibbling on algae, resting at the top. To get down, they  usually just let go and drop. This works fine, unless they're right above the anemone, who has now positioned herself right up against the wall. Any snail that drops in her mouth is swallowed instantly; a few hours later, she spits out a clean snail shell.

My cleaning crew was getting skimpy, so this trip to the beach, I scooped up a handful of snails, all piled together under a rock. I brought along a few small clumps of barnacles, too, to help filter the water.

I should have checked them then and there. I didn't. Careless of me.

At home, every single "snail" turned out to be a hermit. And each of the barnacle clumps was loaded on the back of another hermit. There are now about 30 hermit crabs in my tank. They don't mind the crowding; they're a gregarious bunch.

But they've set me a few puzzles, and given me a good laugh, besides. For starters, let's look at a few of those barnacle carriers:

There's a hermit under all that mass. A couple of his legs are just visible. I counted seven barnacles, plus one broken shell. On the barnacles are a few worms, some other unidentifiable critters, two colours of algae, and lots of grunge. That hole in the centre shows the central column of the snail shell, and the tip of one of the hermit's rear legs. And yes, with all that load on, the hermit can still walk. But he doesn't run very well.

An identical hermit, with just a plain, unbroken shell. He's a speedy runner.

More about this guy, later.

This tiny greenmark hermit is wearing half a snail shell; from the open end, part of his abdomen is just visible. On the left side, the shell is weighted down with one large barnacle, this one bearing three smaller ones.

And I had to laugh at this next poor beast of burden. (I know: he's not laughing. But I've given him his choice of new shells; that should make up for it.)

Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry cone. The pink is some sort of encrusting sponge.

"Oh, my aching back!"

"Scram! I'm not a bus!"

"I never signed up for this! And they're not paying me, either!"

At one point, 3 other hermits were all crammed together on his back, picking at the algae on his cargo of barnacles. His poor legs were splayed out on the sand. He couldn't move.

I've donated a handful of clean, empty shells, in his size range, so he can abandon his pack.

The hermit puzzle, tomorrow.

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