Monthly Archives: August 2010

Love in the time of Hermit Crabs

Summer is flying by, as summers are supposed to. Mine has been filled with sunning, swimming, bar-be-queing and breaking up my kids’ fights. The typical summer. My kids did get along one day, though, and actually managed, not only to like each other for an afternoon, but to work together for a common goal: they came home from a Science Camp field trip as the proud, joint owners of a hermit crab.They pooled their funds at the gift shop of the Sea Shell Museum and had enough money to buy the crab, a sea sponge loaded with salt water, and an extra shell.

They were so happy. They finally had a pet! We’ve been pet deficient since our dog died, and I guess we went for too long without one. The situation as now remedied: we named him Marlowe (after the poet, but my kids just thought the name was cool).

We brought him home from camp in a tiny cardboard box, the bottom of which was so soggy that it was about to give way under him. Again, the kids were so happy. It was heart breaking. I said they could keep it, but they had to take care of it.

A couple hours later, with a head full of Google-derived knowledge, we were at the pet supply store. We bought Marlowe just about everything a happy crab needs: an aquarium, a heater, two water dishes (one for spring water, one for salt water), extra shells, the “good” sand (it’s loaded with calcium), wood (so he can climb when he needs exercise), something to hide under, a variety of foods, salt-water conditioner, a humidity gauge and the book Hermit Crabs for Dummies. But we were not done. Apparently “hermit crab” is a bit of a misnomer: they are social animals. In fact, they need fellow species members in their “crabitat” otherwise they get lonely and stressed. And guess what hermit crabs do when they’re stressed? They lose legs.

I’m not big on finding limbs lying around, so the next day we went to a different store and bought two more crabs. Marlowe is now accompanied by Daisy and Nick.

My kids are thrilled. They love their pets. They have been happily cleaning out their crabitat every night and giving them fresh foods. (By the way, hermies really enjoy room temperature, fresh pineapple.) The kids “play” with the crabs — they build little obstacle courses for them to climb over. They “cuddle” with them by letting the crabs crawl all over them. They’re trying hard to train them to come when their names are called (the book tells us this is possible).

The thing is, I don’t think the crabs are aware of all the warm fuzzies coming their way. If they are not trying to find a way to escape from the kids, they curl up in their shells. My son loves it when Marlowe crawls up his chest and curls into the crook of his neck. He thinks the crab is snuggling. But I know the thing is heading up there because it’s a shadowed area and that’s what they do when it’s daylight: they look for a shadowed area where they can hide.

They are nocturnal, so we set up the video camera once on “night shooting” mode and had a mini film of them walking around the crabitat. Hmm, very exciting.

My husband doesn’t understand the fascination with the critters at all. And I get why: they don’t respond, they aren’t awake when we are, they don’t seem to care that we’re the ones putting food and water in their dishes every day. But . . .

Marlowe the social Hermit Crab

When you’re able to look in their little eyes, you do kind of melt inside and just want to take care of them. It’s easy to fool yourself that it’s not an unrequited love, but that the tiny little brain inside the almost non-existent head is just as happy to see you as a puppy would be. And then he pulls everything back inside the shell, because really, you’re just some scary giant.



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