An 80km drive to save a 2cm hermit crab

  • July 09, 2013 | Ann Kunz

When Kaitlyn (8) and Christine (11) Heyns, of Hillcrest, were on holiday in Port Alfred during the July 2013 holidays, they picked up shells along the seashore and placed them in a plastic bag. A few days after returning home, Kaitlyn opened the plastic bag and discovered that one of the shells housed a 2cm hermit crab that was very much alive.

Mortified at the discovery of a live hermit crab among the shells, the young girls phoned their grandmother, Margaret Keogh, who apparently always knows what to do in these situations, and told her about the hermit crab walking about in the plastic bag.

After persuading their grandmother to drive to uShaka Marine World so the hermit crab would survive, they carefully placed the crab, who by now had the name Hermie, in a bowl of water with some of the other shells and a few stones from the garden. She even added some salt for good measure.

Christine and Kaitlyn with uShaka Sea World marine educator Mpho Lephalia. Photo by Ann Kunz

Hermit crabs are decapod crustaceans and are commonly seen in tidal pools. They salvage empty seashells and retract their entire bodies into the shell. The tip of the crab's abdomen is adapted to clasp onto the base of the shell.

As the hermit crab grows in size it needs to find a larger shell and abandons its previous one. Suitable gastropod shells are sometimes a limited resource, which results in vigorous competition among the hermit crabs for shells.

Christine and Kaitlyn not only handed over the hermit crab to Mpho Lephaila, a marine educator at uShaka Sea World, but all the other shells they had collected. Mpho took the young environmentalists to the Treasure Chest exhibit in the Aquarium, where they learned about the biology and lifestyle of hermit crabs, as well as other intertidal invertebrates.

Kaitlyn and Christine left uShaka Marine World, confident that they had put right what they had unknowingly done wrong. “I was very sad when I realised what I had done by bringing a shell home with a live hermit crab inside, but now I am happy he is going to survive. I am going to tell all my friends to be very careful when they collect shells on the beach, and from now on I am going to leave shells on the beach, where they belong,” said young Kaitlyn.

Granny piled them back into the car and drove the 40km back home, happy in the knowledge that the environment will be in good hands if the next generation cares for creatures both big and small as much as her grandchildren do.

Christine and Kaitlyn hand over the hermit crab. Photo by Ann Kunz

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