Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Hermit crabs take life easy. The snails and limpets work incessantly, chewing, scraping, drilling holes, making trails. Anemones, tubeworms, and barnacles fish day and night, clams and mussels are always filtering the water. And the amphipods! Never still, even for a moment, dashing here and there, fanning the water, keeping it moving, stirring up the detritus, looking for their food.

Hermits? Nah. They sit staring at nothing for hours; they climb to the top of a shell, and watch the world go by; they dawdle around talking to their neighbours, teasing the big anemone, playing "King of the Castle". If food comes by, they eat it. They're not picky; anything will do, so they don't have to go hunting.

They don't even make their own clothes, or build homes. They're outright layabouts. Let the others do the work! The hermits will just wait and use the leftovers.

That's all very well, but it gets them into trouble sometimes.

Like the other crustaceans, they grow out of their exoskeleton, and have to discard it. And until they find another suitable shell, they are easy pickings for the crabs. (On the beach, for birds and fish, as well.) If they don't find a shell just lying about nearby, they take to the eelgrass, out of reach of the crab, to rest and wait until the coast is clear.

Hairy hermit, freshly molted

The crab, of course, is wise to this. He'll hide under a shell near the hermit on high, waiting until she comes down to collect a shell. Then, dash, grab, and retire to his den for a good meal of fresh hermit. I've lost a few this way, that I've seen; probably more that I didn't.

View of the juicy abdomen, a favourite crab meal. This part of the hermit never develops a hard exo-skeleton.

So when I see them like this, I help out. I carefully capture the hermit, and transfer her to a separate bowl. Then I select a choice of shells that look about the right size, and add them to the bowl. Within minutes, the hermit has tried one on, and is checking out the others. Once she has decided which one she'll keep, I return her to the tank, and she wanders off to gossip with her friends, worry-free.

Here she is, in her nice, brand-new shell.

I even pick out good shells from a box at the aquarium store, boil them up, and keep them until they're needed, so my hermits now parade around in duds they'd never have found on their beach.

They have no idea how spoiled they are.

1 comment:

  1. sort of like getting a foreign couture dress!


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