The na­ture of things

Her­mit crabs

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook -

SEV­ERAL house moves take the young her­mit crab up the hous­ing lad­der to ma­tu­rity and his fi­nal home. For Pagu­rus bern­hardus, the most com­mon her­mit crab to be seen in Bri­tish wa­ters, a cockle or whelk shell pro­vides an ideal des-res. When ‘be­tween homes’—a dan­ger­ous mo­ment that must be en­dured as briefly as pos­si­ble— the grow­ing her­mit can be seen to be all legs and claws, of an or­angey hue, at one end; the rest is a soft, spi­ralling body that will neatly furl it­self into a dis­carded shell the next size up.

Com­mon her­mits are of­ten found in rock­pools, re­treat­ing back into the shell if feel­ing threat­ened or scur­ry­ing rapidly away, back­wards, trail­ing its claws. One easy way to iden­tify them is from the colour­ing as well as the ob­vi­ously larger ‘right-hand’ claw.

Numer­ous her­mits re­side on Bri­tish coasts, one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing be­ing Pagu­rus prideaux, with or­ange and pur­plish mark­ings on its legs and a ten­ant on board: the cloak anemone, Adam­sia pal­li­ata. These two crea­tures live to­gether in sym­bi­otic part­ner­ship, the anemone pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion with its sting­ing threads, but achiev­ing greater op­por­tu­ni­ties to feed by at­tach­ment to the mo­bile crab’s shell.

Dio­genes pugi­la­tor, the south-claw her­mit, also might be seen, and is easily iden­ti­fied by hav­ing its left claw larger than its right.

Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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