The crabnapper next door

Google “accidentally took crab home from the beach,” and you’ll see we’re not the only ones facing the crabnapper’s dilemma: what to do when the beautiful, empty shell you bring home from the beach is actually occupied and taking the creature back to his home is not an option.

Unfortunately, there are also people who are taking hermit crabs home on purpose. An employee at the local pet store said she’d had two other customers buying stuff for hermit crabs recently, only they’d kidnapped theirs from Cape Cod.  One has already died, she said.

As for our temporary crab, Atlas, he’s still hanging in there, and recently moved to a bigger tank we found on the side of the road. He has sand from the Caribbean, water from the Pacific, and all the mail-order algae he can eat. I have played the Hallelujah Chorus for him. He’s listened to Shakespeare. He’s flown on a plane. It’s like he won the crab lottery. He’s the Ken Bone of crabdom.

He’s still mad as hell about it, waving his tiny claws at us like Achmed the Terrorist.

I contacted the New England Aquarium in hopes that they’d let him join one of their tanks, but the “curator of fishes” (job of the week) said they only have local species because of the possibility that critters from other regions might carry parasites or disease to which New England animals aren’t immune.

A biologist at the South Carolina Aquarium, who clearly has never waded into the ocean in New England, suggested gradually acclimating him to colder water and releasing him locally. This seemed doable, until I read this story about a lobster that was rescued and released, found dead a week later – the likely victim of temperature change.

I’ve been trying to acclimate to New England ocean water for nearly a decade. Ice baths are warmer.

We’ve asked the legendary Kelly’s Roast Beef if Atlas could join one of their saltwater fish tanks. They politely declined. We’ve posted a “lonely crab looking for friend” ad on Craigslist. Nothing.


So, we’re still looking for a solution that doesn’t result in death or damnation – you know, in case we’ve been wrong about this whole “God made man in His image” thing, and it turns out God’s actually a striped-leg hermit crab, in which case we’re doomed.

Here is Atlas, in his natural shell. crab-020

What do you think? Is he a cool summer or a deep winter? The online color tests aren’t helping much:

Body type: Cockroach

Skin tone: Mottled

Eyes:  Brown, on a stick.

Natural hair color: I keel you for asking.

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

Never own a chicken with better hair than you (and other farm lessons)

There’s a great video on the web called “The Hazards of Backyard Hens.”  It explains how chickens are a gateway livestock.

First, you get a few hens for the fresh eggs. Then you decide you need fresh feta, requiring a goat or two or four, then “one day, on your way home from work, you’ll stop and pick yourself up a cow.”

We can vouch for that, after more than a year of life on the Maxwell-Thompson Family Farm, home to goats, pigs, ducks,  the occasional cow, and more chickens than we can count.  (Thus, also the occasional coyote.)

Several of the chickens have better hair than I do, which can be tough on the ego some mornings.  Who knew that chickens can have ‘fros?puffjunk 001


And that backyard chickens mean Easter eggs all year long, no dye required?jan2016 024

We’ve learned other things.

The best garbage disposals aren’t in your sink. They’re pigs.

Footprints in the snow are much more interesting on a farm than in a city.jan2016 006

You can have roosters, or you can have friendly neighbors. Not both.

The best gift tags come from the feed store, not Hallmark.

goatbabes 002

Goats stink.  Literally. Which may be why there’s no video called “The Hazards of Backyard Goats.”

But they make adorable babies.

No Valentine’s Day delivery this year, but it’s twins!  Four hours old, below. Two more moms yet to deliver.

goatbabes 021

Saving the skunks, one slashed yogurt cup at a time

It’s probably unfair to single out Yoplait, since every single serving of yogurt comes in a plastic container that could get lodged on a small animal’s head. But watch this, and you may never buy Yoplait again.

It’s a police-cam video that could be heartwarming — policeman saves cute skunk from agonizing death! — but for the fact that you just know if it happened to this little guy on a city street, it’s happening to hundreds of others out of sight who won’t be rescued.

That cuts a dozen w’s off my awwwww.

I wrote about this, and other environmental atrocities,  in a column you can find here. Yup, you can be a conservative and still hate plastic and what it’s doing to the planet.

Here’s a Facebook page about the Yoplait cups, and here’s a petition asking for a redesign.

Here’s the sly, smart video about the majestic plastic bag’s inspiring journey to the sea. (“Our bag manages to escape the Yorkie’s talons!”)

Check your toothpaste for the microscrubbers.  Mine had them, as did some of my daughter’s exfoliating cleansers.   With all the natural grainy stuff available out there – sugar, ground nuts, cornmeal, grits for that matter — I still can’t wrap my mind around some capitalist deviant thinking, “Hey!  Here’s a great idea!  Let’s put tiny bits of plastic in our children’s toothpaste!”

So slash through your yogurt cups before you put them in the trash, please.  And because you can’t take the South out of the girl, here’s the greatest homemade scrub ever:  grits and honey.

Who wants to be an invertebrate?

I compost, therefore I have worms.

Too many, actually.

I have grown intimate of earthworms over the past few years, in worrisome fashion that consumes way too much of my time. For one thing, my old, socially appropriate habit of ignoring them when I encounter them on pavement has given way to new manifestation of mental illness: a compulsive need to deposit them in my garden or compost pile.

It provides a strange satisfaction to see a worm, which had been dejectedly trying to burrow into pavement all night, nuzzle its way into moist ground. We think they are not sentient, but they know which way is up; they always right themselves when I lay them down wrong side up. And for true joy, deposit one dejected earthworm in soil, atop another.

Not my personal worm.  Image via, great small-farming blog.

Not my personal worm. (Image via, great small-farming blog.)

So yes, on any given morning, I can be found collecting earthworms from the driveway. (How do they get there?  Birds? Amtrak?) And then, dispatching them to the garden, a.k.a. Worm Disneyland.  This affords me the soothing pleasure of benevolence, and is a get-into-heaven-free card if we’re wrong about this whole made-in-our-own-image thing and God turns out to be a giant worm.

I envy the inhabitants of Worm Disney, not just because they can eat up to a third of their body weight in a day, but because when it gets cold, they go to sleep and don’t wake up again until spring.  This is every mother’s fantasy.  I generally like having a spine, and wouldn’t give it up for a long winter’s nap, but there are some appealing aspects of being an invertebrate.

Like most creatures that hibernate, earthworms only go dormant when it turns cold. Their heart rate and body temperature drops, breathing slows, and metabolism ramps down to that of a post-menopausal woman.  In running jargon, they’re middle-of-the-pack hibernators. Chipmunks are back-of-the-packers; like toddlers, they get up repeatedly for snacks and potty breaks.

The champion of hibernators, my idol and hero, is the Woolly Bear caterpillar.

Love these guys.  (Image via Wikipedia.)

Love these guys. (Image via Wikipedia.)

This is the little furry guy you see courageously inching across the road every fall.  He has two black segments and one that is cinnamon colored.  He’s looking for a crevice in which to hide before the snow starts. (Or, for you lucky people in the South, let’s say, before temperatures plunge below 40.)

The Woolly Bear not only hibernates, but, for all practical purposes, dies.  His heart doesn’t just slow; it stops beating. His blood freezes solid, then his whole body.  In the spring, he will thaw and self-publish a book about his near-death experience.  Later, he will spin a cocoon and emerge as a lovely, lemon-colored Isabella moth.

This is important to know, not only because humans need constant reminding that we’re not the only astonishing creatures on the planet, but in case in you come across a curled-up, motionless Woolly Bear in your yard, like I did while raking this past week.


Do not mourn him, toss him across the yard, or worse, stomp on the poor little guy.   He’s just already gone zombie for the winter. Please just tuck him back into bed, preferably between rocks or under some inaccessible leaves.  Let him sleep.

And parents, if your kids ever bring a Woolly Bear inside and say, please can we keep him, the answer is no, you may not.  Or if you must, in winter, put him the freezer.

Alas, I’m not kidding.  People do this. (No friends of mine.) Also, if you’re so inclined, you can freeze ladybugs and release them in the spring.  I’m not sure why I know all this, but I do one thing:

If God is a ladybug, I’m all set.