Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs in Cayo Santiago grow humongous scavenging on monkey chow. They scurry around in packs, drag the food with their purplish claws, and munch on them like a kid would on a piece of nachos.

Once a decapod grabs a piece of chow, five or six others would crawl towards it and engage in a free-for-all wrestling match. They use their shell weight to pull the food and flick the opposing teams with their bamboo-like legs.

Once flicked and rolling on the ground, they dig their claws back into the chow and pull themselves back in, clambering on top of the shell of another crab. The wrestling match only ends when the food disappears, put far back up, hidden in that belly curled inside the chamber of a dead seashell.

Here’s a great poem by Mary Oliver about hermit crabs:

The Hermit Crab

by Mary Oliver

Once I looked inside
the darkness
of a shell folded like pastry
and there was a fancy face–

or almost a face–
it turned away
and frisked up its brawny forearms
so quickly

against the light
and my looking in
I hardly had the time to see it,

under the pure white roof
of old calcium.
When I set it down, it hurried
along the tideline

of the sea,
which was slashing as usual,
shouting and hissing
toward the future

turning its back
with every tide on the past,
leaving the shore littered
every morning

with ornaments of death–
what a pearly rubble
from which to choose a house
like a white flower–

and what a rebellion
to leap into it
and hold on,
connecting everything

the past to the future–
which is of course a miracle–
which is the only argument there is
against the sea.


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