We were standing around a small, glass-rimmed kiosk at Alvin’s Island, a trinket-filled tourist shop a few blocks from our hotel. The kiosk contained dozens of shells with hermit crabs in them. Heaven help them, they were the ugliest creatures I have ever laid eyes on. Tammie casually began picking up shells and showing me how to tell if the crabs were a good fit in the shell. “They are sooo easy to take care of,” she assured me in her Texas drawl. “You don’t have to do nothin’ with ‘em.” Tammie had owned a hermit crab that lived for two years—an impressive enough life span to establish her as a credible crab expert.
A bright sign read “Free crab with purchase of cage.” I picked up the smallest-sized cage. Not only was it the least expensive, I knew it was the only one that would fit in my carry on luggage.
“Are you sure this is big enough?” I asked Tammie.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “They don’t need much space.”
“And you don’t have to clean the cage?”
“Nope. You just keep the sponge wet and feed them. That’s it!”
Our oldest son, Caleb, had already enumerated the many fine attributes of hermit crabs, chief among which was the fact that they are quiet and easy to care for. I wondered if this might make the perfect souvenir. After talking to my husband about it, we decided to buy a crab on the last afternoon of our trip.
That last night I already wondered if we had made a mistake. For being so quiet, that crab made enough clickety-clacking racket in his little plastic box to wake me several times. Having a crab may not be as simple as I thought.
Our little crabby friend managed to survive the trip home, despite the many indignities wreaked upon him by airport security (the TSA is not exactly gentle while checking baggage). Caleb was thrilled with his souvenir, though it took him a full day to work up the courage to pick up the shell.
I have one bit of advice for new hermit crab owners: never get on the internet to find out how to take care of hermit crabs. I promptly did this, and am now burdened with the knowledge that I am very likely a crab abuser. According to the websites, hermit crabs are much more complex than most people (including Tammie) realize. Studies show (imagine! hermit crab studies!) that they get bored easily and like to have their “crabitats” rearranged daily. And those tiny plastic boxes are apparently not enough space to properly accommodate a hermit crab. They are social creatures who like to live in colonies of at least five crabs. So, in order to appropriately house a crab without inflicting social or emotional damage, they need to be with several of their own kind, preferably in a large glass aquarium outfitted with a humidistat and coconut shavings to burrow in. They also apparently have sophisticated palates and like to have a variety of foods at every meal. Include a lot of beta-carotene-rich foods, these websites say. As soon as I manage to do that for my children, I will do it for our crab, I say. We did throw in a piece of coral for him to crawl around on, and Caleb moves the crab furniture around every few days to keep the crabitat interesting. He also lets the crab stretch his legs on the bathroom counter several times a week. We are not, however, investing in a colony of crabs. This one little crab will have to serve alone as a souvenir from our trip to Florida.
What are some of your favorite souvenirs from vacation?