Monday, October 28, 2013

Out of character

He's polite, peace-loving, gentle, co-operative. A good neighbour, tolerant of youngsters, patient. A typical Canadian (YMMV).

He's a hermit crab, of course. They're like that; pleasant company.

And then he goes and transmogrifies into a stereotypical cartoon caveman*, when he discovers girls.

Oog, the hairy hermit, with his captive mate.

A mature male hairy, big and strong and about 3/4 of an inch long, chooses a female. She's smaller than he is, usually quite a bit smaller. He grabs her by the corner of her shell, near her face, and drags her wherever he goes. Oog, here, chose the top of the tall abalone shell as a perch; from here, he has the drop on any challengers. And there he waited, only coming down for lunch, still dragging the female with him. (She didn't get much; she was trapped and could only catch a few spare crumbs.)

From the time I first saw him with her, until she finally was allowed to go her own way, was three days. Night and day he held her; she lay quietly in her shell, not bothering to struggle.

He was waiting for her to molt. Only then could he fertilize her eggs. Until then, he wouldn't let any other male near her. On the third day, I was watching when she started to signal to him that she was ready; she stretched part way out of the shell, and tapped at his big pincer with hers. After a bit, he let go, so that she could get out of the shell to molt.

And then another male, slightly smaller, (Glok, I'll call him) decided to horn in. He came up and grabbed the female's shell. Not allowed! Oog attacked!

I have never seen such an angry hermit before. He tangled with the intruder, tugging and hitting and pinching until Glok had to drop his prize and run away, with Oog pursuing him furiously for half a tank length before he turned back to his mate.

Now he stood guard, at arm's length from her, watching, watching. Glok tried to sneak up from behind a blade of seaweed; Oog caught him and pounded him some more. Glok came around from the back; Oog chased him away again. And again. And again. Each time, the pursuit was longer, angrier.

I don't know if they ever managed to mate; I missed it, if they did. The next day, Oog was wandering around, sadly poking at random females without picking them up.

I haven't named the female. I don't know if I could recognize her again; her shell is much like anyone else's, and I never saw her features. I'll be watching to see if one turns up in berry.

*Re the "stereotypical cartoon caveman": I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that they've been maligned; maybe they were quite the gentlemen. And maybe they had nicer, more musical names, too.


  1. The courtship was short by our standards, but I am sure the three days for her were long ones. Not sure I could put up with all that. - Margy

  2. Being dragged around upside-down night and day? No fun. He's just lucky she's so patient.


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