At­tempt to aid crab heals faith in hu­man­ity

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL BUSINESS - SU­SAN SCOTT

One morn­ing last week the news of hate crimes, sci­ence de­nial and war atroc­i­ties left me feel­ing hope­less about the hu­man race. Want­ing to block out the whole wretched world, I plugged my ears with head­phones, pulled a hat down to my eyes and walked to the beach.

And some­thing won­der­ful hap­pened. Stand­ing near the shore break, an el­derly cou­ple peered down at a tiny white ob­ject in the sand.

“We wanted to help it,” the man said, when I ap­proached, “but we didn’t know if it could sting. It seems to be tan­gled in some­thing orange.”

The crea­ture they were try­ing to res­cue was a charm­ing lit­tle mole crab.

Hawaii’s cream-col­ored mole crabs, about 1.5 inches long, live un­der the sand along some shore breaks, mov­ing up and down with the tides. The lit­tle crabs man­age to sur­vive in this tur­bu­lent area be­cause their egg-shaped bod­ies are smooth, al­low­ing wa­ter and sand to slide over them with min­i­mal re­sis­tance.

With its strong back legs, a mole crab can dig a hole in wet sand and back into it in a split se­cond. This hap­pens so fast that even while watch­ing you can lose the crab’s lo­ca­tion. If you know what to look for, though, it’s some­times pos­si­ble to find buried mole crabs.

The crabs po­si­tion them­selves up­right in their bur­rows, fac­ing the in­com­ing waves with two stalked eyes peek­ing out and a pair of feath­ery an­ten­nae ly­ing flat and for­ward, as a kind of brace. An­other pair of plumed an­ten­nae stand up­right, di­rect­ing wa­ter to the gills for breath­ing.

All four an­ten­nae fil­ter the wa­ter wash­ing over them, gath­er­ing tiny plants and an­i­mals, dead or alive, for food.

The mole crabs’ or­gans are so tiny, and the wave ac­tion so swirly, that the mi­nus­cule dim­ple they make in the sand is barely vis­i­ble. One easy tell, though, is when a crab has found a Por­tuguese man-of-war. Even as waves wash back and forth over the ship­wrecked crea­ture, it looks

as if its long blue ten­ta­cle is stuck in the sand.

It is. A mole crab is reel­ing it in to eat at its leisure. I’ve found crabs with blue ten­ta­cles rolled up on the crab’s belly like a bright skein of yarn.

The mole crab the cou­ple found was alive, but barely. I picked her up, ex­plain­ing that these fil­ter feed­ers have no pin­cers and don’t sting. I say her be­cause the orange mass on the ab­domen was a bun­dle of eggs. Small holes, likely a bite, in the crab’s back proved to be fa­tal.

To re­mem­ber those kind peo­ple, who not even know­ing what it was tried to save a tiny crab’s life, I took the crea­ture home and gave it a photo memo­rial. The pic­tures re­mind me to try to fo­cus on the good side of hu­man be­ings — and to take more beach walks.

COUR­TESY SU­SAN SCOTT

Tiny mole crabs live in Hawaii, just be­low the sand and of­ten along the wa­ter’s edge. A de­ceased fe­male’s belly shows a mass of orange eggs cling­ing to it.

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