What fresh shell is this?

Before I begin, this is important:

It is illegal to remove living creatures from a South Carolina beach. I know this. I would never do this knowingly.

I’m the mom who inspects every shell; returns every brown, fuzzy sanddollar to the deep; stands disapprovingly over other people’s children when it looks like they might be about to pocket a hermit crab or poke a stick in a jellyfish. It’s their home, not ours.

So, when Katherine found a beautiful, unusual shell on Sullivan’s Island recently, we inspected it carefully, even smelled it, before taking it from the beach. Nothing. Empty. Abandoned.

And it appeared that way for nearly eight hours, until we were almost back home in Boston and she reached in her backpack to pull a book out, and saw something scurry back into the shell.

If you lived anywhere near Fenway Park and had your windows open at that moment, you could have heard all of us screaming.

What is it with these animals that are always hitching a ride with this family?crab-042

After the screaming stopped, we were crushed with remorse. Not only had we kidnapped this crab from his home and stuffed him in a dark, crowded backpack, but he’d been X-rayed and flown on a plane. (Note to terrorists: You can’t get knives through airport security any more, but pack all the hermit crabs you want.)

This was not a land hermit crab, the kind that scuttle under foot in the sand. This was a marine crab – we have come to learn, a coastal hermit crab, with striped legs and a formal name: Clibanarius vittatus. It was miraculous that it was even still alive at this point. So when we got home, fresh out of seawater and not knowing what else to do, we put it in a pot on top of paper towels dampened with tap water mixed with salt.

Crueler people might have just cooked it.

But those people also wouldn’t move donkeys up and down the East Coast.

So, we immediately vowed – okay, I immediately vowed – that we would get this crab back to his home somehow. Even though it was a thousand miles away, and I had neither the money, time nor will to get him X-rayed by the TSA again. Or spend four days in a car to relocate a crab.

I felt guilty, but not that guilty.

And so.  One trip to the pet store and $100 later, we have a hermit crab staring reproachfully at us from his aquarium next to the kitchen sink. He lives in Pacific sea water that comes in a box (there is no Atlantic sea water for sale at the Milford PetCo, something some entrepreneur should correct right away), and eats krill (tiny shrimp) stored in the freezer. He waves his little claws and tentacles at us; I’d like to think he’s being friendly, but it’s most likely an array of crab obscenities that would shock even Donald Trump.

Since he’s stuck with us for a while, he needed a name. I wanted to call him Crabby Patty (because, actually, we have no idea whether it’s a he or a she), but Katherine chose Atlas because he’s a traveler, and so Atlas he is. And somehow, we are determined to get him back home, although I have to admit that my resolution is weakening a little, since we’re getting attached to the little fellow, as well as his daily fashion shows. His natural shell is gray, but sometimes he likes to strut about in royal blue or neon green.crab-035

5 thoughts on “What fresh shell is this?

  1. I’m so confused! My only excuse is that the last biology course I took was in 10th grade, in the late 60s.

    Side bar: College In The Seventies. I only had to take one science course and one mathematics course to fill those field requirements. However, I did get college credit for an English class that had “Fear of Flying” on the syllabus. Go figure. At a *** name brand southern university *** no less. (Hint: Wahoo-wah.)

    Back to the main point: Since when do hermit crabs have such Benjamin Moore shell colors? Have you gotten carried away with Photoshop? Are you buying new, bigger shells at the Crabs ‘R Us High End Designer Nook to upgrade the little dude’s real estate as he grows larger? Which he will. They get cranky being stuffed into a shell too small. Like I would if I had to stuff myself into the jeans I wore when reading Fear of Flying.

    I poked, shoveled and undoubtedly terrorized (but never knowingly tortured) hermit crabs from Maine to the Jersey Shore to Delaware to Charleston, from the ’50s to the aughts. I must confess to sometimes keeping a few in a bucket of salt water overnight along the way. But I never saw any shell color transformations, let alone such dramatic ones. What magic resides in your daughter’s backpack?


    1. Okay, yes, some clarification is in order! The neon shells came from Petco. His natural shell is a murky beige. Updates to follow. (PS – You have broken the No. 1 rule of blog comments: Never be funnier than the post. Benjamin Moore colors — I am dying here.)


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