A crabby story (with a happy ending)

by Keri K. on September 1, 2009

Fruity Peppers the Hermit CrabHermit crabs are fascinating little animals. You may think they’re rather ungainly, what with lugging around a big shell and all, but that shell hides no less than ten legs! The first pair is the hermit crab’s claws, and the second and third pairs are also visible, meant for walking. The fourth and fifth pairs are hidden inside, to help hold on to and clean out the shell.

That many appendages means a hermit crab is surprisingly dexterous. They’re stronger than you’d think, too. That’s how, when left overnight here at work for a modeling gig, two of my hermit crabs managed to pop the top off their plastic traveling container and vanish into the depths of our photo studio.

The next morning I located the larger of the two, Fruity, within a few feet of the desk. She (yes, you can determine a hermit crab’s gender!) was snuggled up to the nice warm back of a tank that held a tokay gecko, apparently feeling no urge to wander further. But the second crab, Mr. President, was long gone.

We searched the room with flashlights, checking behind all the computers and under the minifridge. There’s a lot of stuff in a photo studio, including all the equipment and props, and a hermit crab is capable of climbing up or into all of it. I’ve seen them scale electrical cords, walk upside down on their screen cover, and stroll nimbly along the lip of an aquarium. So, he could be inside a duffel bag, or attached to the underside of a couch – he could be anywhere.

Hermit crabs are native to warm, wet beaches. They require high humidity – 60% to 80% — to keep their modified gills moist enough to breathe. My fear was that Mr. President would wander too far looking for a damp place to hide, and end up slowly suffocating as his surroundings became too cold and dry. Our photographers promised to keep an eye and ear out for him, and if they heard scratching or rustling, try to find him.

The name “hermit” crab is misleading. (Actually, they’re not true “crabs,” either.) In the wild they live in large groups, and require company of their own kind in captivity to avoid stress. I don’t know if I’d say that Fruity and Mr. President were best friends, but they always hung around the food dish together and seemed to burrow in the same corner, so watching Fruity emerge for dinner all alone five days in a row was depressing. After most of a week had passed, I’d pretty much given up on Mr. President, and was prepared for the sad day that he was eventually found.

Then, earlier this week, I received a text message from one of our photographers who had stayed late to organize the back room. The message was “HE’S ALIVE!” Mr. President had wedged himself between two bags of reptile bedding, and was indeed still crawling. She quickly misted him and gave him some damp paper towel and a fishy cat treat, and he stuffed his little maxillipeds with food and water. And then she set a book on top of his container. Mr. President requires high security.

Hermit crabs have simple but specific housing requirements. Check out our article on building these fun pets their ideal habitat.


Keri is a lead catalog designer for Drs. Foster and Smith and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UW-Stout. She shares a small home with her husband, two Chinese Crested dogs, two cats, two ferrets, several reptiles and amphibians, and 30-some gallons of freshwater planted aquariums. See more articles by Keri K.

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