hermit crab

Every now and then I am absolutely dumbfounded by the obvious, and more often than not, it inspires great wonderment and gratitude.  Yesterday, as I was watching my hermit crab dismantle its habitat — he has a particular distaste for faux rock walls apparently — I was once again struck by just how interesting this little crustacean is.

Our time together — such that it is (him being a crab and all) — began five years ago when my nieces gave him to me for my birthday.  The inspiration for the gift — beside the fact that they were seven and five respectively — no doubt sprang from the familial understanding that if you’re going to give somebody an unusual gift, exercise that understanding on Tony.  Where this understanding had its genesis, I can hardly guess, but hey, if I inspire such impulses, all the better — it’s a win-win for everybody.  Fun to give, fun to receive.

Anyway, I digress.

The thing is, while the gift was sweet (and most certainly inspired), inside I was a bit concerned I’d inherited the quick deaths of two very well appointed hermit crabs; who — if given their druthers — would much rather be on a beach in the Bahamas nibbling on a dead castaway, than in the care of a quadriplegic in Berkeley, California.

And therein lies the rub — a quadriplegic’s care. Which is really another way of saying my friend’s and attendant’s care.  Which isn’t to say my friends and attendants aren’t capable of taking care of crustaceans, but rather I wasn’t sure I wanted to lay the responsibility of the crab’s mortality at their feet.  You see, while I may have been familiar with their ocean dwelling brethren, I knew nothing about these terrestrial fellas — i.e., what it would take to keep them alive — and I’m guessing my friends were in the same boat as well.

Not wanting to waste any time, as soon as my family left, I googled “hermit crab care” and found if I wanted to keep these little guys alive, it would take more than the jar of food and plastic carrier cage they came with.  In fact, my research led me to believe, away from their natural habitat, these guys were actually quite sensitive creatures, needing the right humidity, temperature and physical environment not only to thrive but survive.  All of which — given my appreciation of both thriving and surviving — would require a trip to the pet store and investment of no less than $50.  And even then, there were no guarantees.

So left to my own devices, I made a decision and went ahead and posted an ad on Craigslist offering them up to a well humidified, crustacean loving home.  And within an hour I was inundated with responses from resumed, uber-qualified hermit crab owners looking to adopt.

“So why are you giving them away?”  Craigslist hermit crab guy #1 asked, seemingly shocked somebody would be parting with such valued animals.

“Well, I got them as a gift”, I said, “And since I’m a quadriplegic and they seem to need some pretty specific care, I thought rather than have them die because of something I couldn’t provide, I’d give them to somebody more “equipped””.

“Special care?  Dude, where’d you hear that?  They’re soooo easy.  Just give ’em some sand, a bath once a week and whatever food you have lying around, and they’re good to go.  I’ve had mine for a couple of years now and no problems.  I even let them run around the loft from time to time.”

“Really?  Your loft, huh?”  I paused to allow this image of hermit crabs running around a chic San Francisco loft take hold and then added, “Well, the website I checked out made them seem like they were super sensitive, so, you know.”

“Well, not mine, bro.  But look, I’ll take ’em if you want, but you should seriously think about keeping them.  They’re a lot of fun”.

And so I did, I kept them.  And he was right, they’re pretty low maintenance as far as pets go; a bath once a week to wet their modified gills (before going terrestrial they were sea creatures and are still evolving), apples to munch on (don’t know why, but despite being Caribbean this is their favorite food), lots of toys and things to mess around with, and a temperate environment to call home.  And that’s it.  Simple.

Now admittedly, one of the crabs — who was most likely ill when I got him — did kick the proverbial shell in the first couple of weeks, but the other one — Captain “Shiva” Blood (as he’s been affectionately named) — is still going strong, and like I said above, it’s been five years now.  Oh, and another thing Craiglslist hermit crab guy #1 was right about — they are pretty fun.  Well, fun if you mean interesting, it’s not like you can play frisbee with them or anything.

But whatever.  The thing is, not only is Capt. Blood the strangest, coolest, most alien looking thing in the apartment, but behaviorally speaking, he’s quite the trip and surprisingly entertaining as well.  You see, hermit crabs (a misnomer, by the way, they’re actually quite social), by nature, are very active creatures and, aside from when they’re sleeping or molting, like to keep themselves rather busy.  Here, in his current environment in Berkeley, that essentially translates to a lot of interior decorating — if he can move something from one place to another in his crabitat, he will, and by morning the space is usually completely rearranged; sticks, water bowl, pirate skull shelter, what have you, nothing is left untouched.  In fact, for something so little, he gets a lot more done in a 24-hour period than most people I know.

Which brings me right back around to the beginning of this blog and my inspiration for rambling on about my hermit crab — gratitude.

On any given day there are usually a minimum of three creatures hanging out in my home (it’s difficult to gauge the exact number given all the insects and bacteria); my dog, Captain Blood, and me, all of whom have evolved quite differently after rising out of that primordial ooze eons and eons ago.

But these differences, while deceptively obvious, pale in comparison to the similarities we all share and the fact that we’re all essentially the same thing, utilizing the same atoms, breathing the same air, drinking the same water, with the same goal to ride this life thing out as far as it will take us.

My point being, if this doesn’t cause one — with the capacity to do so — to appreciate the sweet taste of an apple, embrace the moment and to be stupefied with gratitude for the beauty that surrounds us, well then, perhaps it’s time we start giving away hermit crabs at birth to kick start the process.


2 comments on “from the primordial ooze to modified gills, it’s all about gratitude

  • Wow! I feel like I just got a _psychic_ bath, just the thing for my modified mental gills. (Definitely still evolving, and, like Capt. Blood, have a rooted distaste for faux stone.)

    My family went camping with friends on a deserted island once, many years ago. Apart from the fact that it was in the Red Sea, which at the time was the absolutely best diving in the whole world, what was special about it was the old stone wall that skirted one side of our campsite. At first we just thought it was cool and random to have a stone wall on a deserted island in an undeveloped area of one of the most killing deserts ever. The next morning, we learned differently…

    Despite having two of the lightest sleepers in the world (my dad and me) asleep on that beach, hermit crabs had absolutely swarmed across us to the water, then swarmed back again overnight. The entire beach between the wall and the sea was hatch-marked with their sharp little prints. I picked up my sleeping bag, incredulous, and sure enough they hadn’t gone under me somehow, they had gone right over the top. There was no change in density around my head, either, so a perfect mass of enterprising climbers had made it right up and over my face with no apparent effort — let alone mass, let alone pricking of little feet. They didn’t even leave marks on the tender faces of the younger children.

    So we spent that magical vacation alternating between the mind-bendingly open sky (either bright as a gong or drilled with stars) and the body-warm water filled with radiant life, and then snoozing like the dead under those dancing, vaulting, hypnotic crustaceans.

    So I’m convinced hermit crabs are somewhat otherworldly. There’s no other explanation.

  • Absolutely brilliant! Mine is apparently a Caribbean Tree Crab, which always had me wondering what it would be like to stumble into a group of mangrove trees and to look up and see — instead of birds — thousands of crabs. Truly surreal. Alien indeed. Thanks for sharing.

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