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a hermit crab on the beach

Home Is Where the Hermit Goes

Published: 2/19/2024 5:41:36 PM

Disclaimer: this jocular article was most likely not written by a hermit crab.

Not many animals stay in one spot throughout their lives. Relatively few have formed shells that protect them from the outside environment. But there’s also a certain species that requires external protection – and needs to go and find it. Meet the inspiration for today’s read: the hermit crab. A crab that is a hermit. A hermit that is also a crab.

a hermit crab on the beach

Hermit crabs don’t have it easy in life. Sure, they’re unquestionably adorable, but only to people who find them so. Outside their looks (which may lead to some folks becoming enchanted enough to pen an article here and there), they play a meaningful role in the development and regulation of coastal ecology. They scavenge debris, disperse seeds, and accelerate the decomposition of various organic substances in coastal forests. Admittedly, they also fall prey to other animals, which completes the ecological cycle of life; but we’re choosing to remain silent on that particular role of the hermit crab. The topic we want to explore further is their unique dependency on outside protection. So, let’s get a little philosophical and try to find some non-obvious parallels between us humans and these critters.

The hermit crab family includes over 800 species of both land and aquatic varieties! All of them share a universal attribute, which is their soft abdomen that requires protection. That’s already something we have in common: who here doesn’t have a soft belly and doesn’t want it to be guarded from the elements? Hermit crabs are, therefore, on a lifelong quest of continuously searching for their homes, discarded shells, or various shelters produced by other organisms. When they find something they deem appropriate for that purpose, they’ll squeeze their adorable behinds into it and call it a day. Once they’ve outgrown their shells, they resume their search for a suitable abode. Since hermit crabs grow throughout their lives, they have to get used to house hunting. Now, most of us have been in this exact situation. Although humans outgrowing their homes is more metaphorical than that of hermit crabs, we’re perfectly able to understand the pain and hassle of these little cuties. But what happens if a land hermit crab can’t find a shell it so desperately needs? Buckle up, because here comes the mental “ouchie.”

Hermit crab wearing discarded plastic

It’s been widely observed, documented, and studied that hermit crabs may use any means necessary to protect themselves. If Fortune isn’t on their side, hermit crabs may just grab any object they come across and slide into it. Not that they find it especially charming or comfortable, it’s just a necessity – a means of survival, especially when it comes to hiding from birds while on land. The artificial housing of their choosing then becomes plastic caps, broken glass bottles, lightbulbs, or any other similar waste. A rather infamous picture exists of one crab using a doll’s head as its shell – truly a nightmare-inducing sight. We’ll leave looking for that photograph to anyone who’s as resilient as a plastic cap!

Fortunately, there are allies of hermit crabs out there. Some spread awareness and discourage picking up empty shells from beaches where the animals naturally reside; others actually leave shells for the hermit crabs to enjoy. There are also people who do both, like the wildlife photographer and naturalist Shawn Miller, a long-time resident of Okinawa, Japan. Shawn helps our crab friends by providing them with a selection of various shells to choose from, and later collects the discarded waste they’ve used up to that point. This wonderful man also marks the shells offered to crabs. Sometimes he even carves an uplifting message on them for people to see, should they come across a crab blessed to have been helped. The initiative that Mr. Miller has started is called “Make The Switch 4 Nature” and can be supported by anyone willing to help here.

It probably won’t come as a big surprise to anyone reading this far, but the crab supporter writing these words views all animals, big and small, as our kin. We’re all in this together, through thick and thin, united by our shared time on this planet. Everyone in the world does their best to the very extent of their abilities and awareness. Much like hermit crabs, we’re all in constant search of a home, a place of belonging and protection from harm. Our differences, needs, and desires are apparent, but what we share is often clouded amidst our convictions. It takes a great deal of effort to notice what we have in common. It requires even more of that to understand we all have a different view on how to make our dreams become our reality. We all do our best, the best way we can. May we all be lucky enough to be able to strive for greatness – whatever that may be for each of us at the time. Whether it’s searching for a home (metaphorical or not), providing shelter to others (metaphorical or not), or taking some time off from our daily grind to read about hermit crabs or enjoy fishing with friends in an online game. We’re all here. This is our home. May we all be hermits, but together.

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