Story and Illustration by Catherine “Kiki” Kornreich
Hermit crabs are clever little critters.
They devise their own shelter by scouting for a neglected mollusk shell and then tuck themselves in to defend from waves and predators.
I’ve turned into my own version of a hermit crab. I hide in my home and I’m crabby because of it. The dang COVID virus keeps crashing in, and it just feels safer to stay tucked inside and wait for the storm to pass.
But there’s more to the tiny crab than the magical shell you see scurrying along in tide pools. It actually makes a great pet!
I often see kids (ok, plenty of grown-ups, too) squatting down in tidepools to watch the crabs dart around. They can be hard to catch, but unless the hermit crabs are being taken home to be properly cared for, I think it’s best to let them play with each other in the sea.
My sister, Maggie, runs a daycare in Los Osos and the toddlers have gotten to know and love their tiny hermit crab, Sam. She bought Sam in a pet store and set up a terrarium filled with sand and gravel. She added in fresh and saltwater trays and natural hiding places such as driftwood and plants. The little fellow has been an entertaining, allergy-free pet for over six years.
The kids get to feed him fruits, vegetables and pellets, and tell Maggie when he needs more fresh water. Then they watch him eat and play, or they try to find his current hiding place.
On special days, a brave child will be allowed to hold out their palm. The others circle around in awe, and watch as Sam is gently placed on the soft little hand. When he was a baby, Sam would try to run away, but he’s become comfortable with these bright-eyed children. Most of them eventually want to hold Sam, and it’s often the youngest that like extra visits.
Maggie places a handful of empty mollusk shells of varying sizes into his room, because hermit crabs grow as they age (something else this little crab and I seem to have in common). When it’s time to move, they mimic Goldilocks and visit each shell until they find the one that’s “just right.”
Sam sits at eye level to the toddlers, and they circle around his cage every day to see if he’s darting around his playground. Many times he’s simply sleeping, but they love to peek. They’ll joyously shout, “Maybe he’s at the store!” “Or at the doctor!” “He’s on vacation!” “Yeah! A vacation at the beach with his friends!”
If the kids spot him sleeping, Maggie can sometimes wake Sam from his slumber by placing a tiny drop of water on his shell (as kids, Maggie tried to wake me up the same way. But I’d tuck back into the shelter of my bed).
Thank you, Sam. You’ve taught me some valuable lessons. Sometimes it’s perfectly ok to hide out. Avoid things I’m just not ready to face. And simply be a crab.