Yesterday I wrote about an alien that landed right where I was walking – if you missed it, it is here. I described two ‘firsts’ for me and I said that there was a third ‘first’. Well this is it!
I happened on it by chance. Whelk shells are always so interesting and I picked this one up just to feel it and have a closer look and I noticed something was moving deep inside. It was barely visible but I put the shell down and just waited quietly and gradually this alien looking thing started to peep out. At first I wasn’t even sure what it was but it gradually became clearer. My first Hermit Crab.
The problem with hermit crabs is that they have no protective carapace on their bodies which makes them vulnerable to predators. To get around this, they take over disused shells such as whelk shells and they use them as their ‘armour’ and their homes, carrying them around with them. As they grow and become too large for their home, they simply find another one and move into that, recycling the old one to a smaller crab. I say ‘crab’ because they are called crabs, but they are actually more related to lobsters. There are over 1,000 different species!
The hermit crab’s front half has a kind of exoskeleton but it is the long abdomen which is the problem. However, that long abdomen is useful because it can change shape to fit into anything with a hole, and it can then expand to grip the sides so that it stays put. Shells are plentiful and make obvious homes but in reality, any small object with a suitable sized hole will do.
With eyes out on stalks and antennae to feel, taste and smell, these are strange, alien like creatures, especially with their lopsided claws – one is bigger than the other. They scavenge for food and can eat virtually anything from rotting fish to algae. As they grow, they molt their exoskeleton and form a new larger one, often eating the old one to absorb its goodness.
These are fascinating creatures and I am amazed that I have not come across one in the wild before now. But then, as you can see in the picture below, you wouldn’t even know it was in there unless you happen to pick it up as I did.
Now I confess, I have taken whelk shells home before and I now feel guilty as I was taking what was a potential home for a homeless hermit crab. I think in future I shall leave whelk alone 🙂 !
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Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
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