Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Shell game, Part 1

If a hermit crab had a Facebook page, his "Friends" list would be long, and his Relationship status would be, "It's complicated." I've spent hours since yesterday, trying to untangle the dynamics of an unexpected friend/roommate/tenant sharing bed and breakfast with a big grainy hand hermit.

At mid-intertidal zone on the beach the other day, I picked up two very large hermit crabs, giants among all their relatives. They were both Grainy Hands, in oversized whelk shells. One's shell was so encrusted with barnacles that it seemed that he wouldn't be able to walk. I was intrigued, and brought them both home.

Grainy Hand hermit, 2011. (Patience)

In the tank, they settled down quickly. That may have been, especially for the barnacled one, because it was just too much effort to drag himself to his feet. For a couple of days, I watched him struggling to hoist his load over to the food before all the little ones ate it, often without luck. He needed a better shell.

I didn't have any whelk shells his size, but I pawed through the pile of shells from foreign shores, mostly Mexican and Central American shells my son had brought back. I found two that just possibly might pass muster, washed them and dropped them in the tank.

Pretty, brown, fat shell. Presently in use.

The hermit in the un-burdened shell was the first to find them, of course. She (I think she's a she) rolled one over and over many times; a pretty shell; I was hoping she'd take it. But no, the mouth was the wrong shape.

I had my doubts about the second shell. It was the right shape and size, but extremely thin-walled, nothing like the thick whelk shells these hermits prefer. But after a quick inspection, she popped in, ran her legs and antennae over the back, and decided to keep it.

It was a great success! Within minutes, she was climbing the thermometer, something unthinkable in her old shell.

But her castoff was still better than the shell the other guy was wearing. I presented it to him, laying it in front of him, since he was not going to drag his baggage over to it. He looked it over, and climbed in. Good! I removed the old shell, and spent a few minutes breaking off all the walls of dead barnacles, more than half the superstructure.

I was glad I had, because when I looked back, poor old Grainy was walking around nude; the other shell was not to his liking. So I gave him back the previous shell, much lightened. That worked for him, and now he walks around happily.

All that is introduction; what happened next is the point of all this. But the history is important, too.

I'll get to that complicated relationship tomorrow.

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