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A Crabby Adventure

By Melissa Young

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?

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About Melissa Young

(Emerita) is a native of Utah and lives in Cache Valley, Utah, with her husband and three of her four children in their emptying nest. She has an MA in TESOL from Brigham Young University and currently volunteers with the English Learning Center.

14 thoughts on “A Crabby Adventure”

  1. I love hermit crabs–how fun!

    My most favorite souvenir is a hat I bought last fall when I went to California to attend my sister's baby shower. My mom, sister and I spent time in Santa Cruz (where sis used to live) and I bought this lovely hat. I decided it needed to be spruced up a bit, and that I needed to take some of the ocean home with me, so I decorated it with shells and such that I collected that trip. I have not been a hat person, but I love wearing this hat (even on good hair days). It takes me back to the ocean and carefree feelings.

    Fun post!

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  2. Loved the post. You are a better mom than I am–that's one souvenir I can't see us coming home with.

    My favorite souvenirs are probably pictures of my kids. I'm not even a scrapbooker. I just like to look through them on my computer. I love the one of my daughter riding a carousel horse at Disneyland, her mouth wide in delight.

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  3. I almost bought a hermit crab until I read about them on the internet. Just like you, I got the idea that they need more coddling than Oprah Winfrey. So we settled for a tadpole. As I was walking out of the store with my son, clutching the tadpoles bag, I casually asked, "so how long til it changes to a frog." The guy at the counter replied, "Oh, about two years." TWO YEARS?!!!! He then pointed out that it was a bullfrog, which would eventually be the size of a salad plate. I had imagined it would be a dainty little thing. Fortunately, we are terrible amphibian owners and it was dead within a week. A few days ago my son came home with a tiny frog he found down the street. I know it's days are numbered, but at least this creature hops around a bit. Tadpoles are BORING.

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  4. I almost bought a hermit crab until I read about them on the internet. Just like you, I got the idea that they need more coddling than Oprah Winfrey. So we settled for a tadpole. As I was walking out of the store with my son, clutching the tadpole's bag, I casually asked, "so how long til it changes to a frog." The guy at the counter replied, "Oh, about two years." TWO YEARS?!!!! He then pointed out that it was a bullfrog, which would eventually be the size of a salad plate. I had imagined it would be a dainty little thing. Fortunately, we are terrible amphibian owners and it was dead within a week. A few days ago my son came home with a tiny frog he found down the street. I know it's days are numbered, but at least this creature hops around a bit. Tadpoles are BORING.

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  5. "Crabitat" I love it! When we went to Finland there was a porcelain doll who whispered my name as I walked past her in the market in Helsinki. I don't do dolls, and I particularly don't do porcelain dolls. I walked past her three times, once even taking a photo of her because I figured that was just as good.

    But in my heart of tourist hearts I knew that if I had one regret when I went home to the states it would be that I hadn't bought her (assuming I didn't). So I did. I went back the fourth time and haggled the price a bit and brought her home to Provo. She's lovely and I don't regret having indulged that one time in what for me was an extravagant purchase.

    Second? My bright blue Marimekko mouse pad (here's a photo of the red one, doesn't that just make you happy?! http://www.finnstyle.com/mamopad.html).

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  6. @Wendy: your hat sounds great! I love that you put shells on it.

    @ Emily: pictures are the best. Love, love them.

    @ Jennie: you were smart to read about crabs before buying. Good luck with Frog II.

    @ Dalene: good for you for buying the doll! I have a few tourist regrets of my own, sniff.

    My other favorite souvenirs are in a little dish in my living room–scraps from all over the globe, some of which were given to me: an acorn from the grounds of Harvard, a piece of the Berlin wall, a bus ticket from Israel, sea shells from various beaches. I love having bits of the world in a bowl.

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  7. Melissa, I love the idea of bits of the world in a bowl! A long time ago, I wanted to have something fantastic from every place I visited. I didn't get much before I decided it would be a bit too much for me (though I think some people can pull that off gracefully). I have started a charm bracelet and we buy small things now and again (dh usually gets a hat), but the more I think of your idea, the more I like it.

    If you are ever in O. Macey's or L. WalMart around 8:15 in the morning, you may occasionally see a six foot woman pushing a baby in the cart, trying to hide really bad bed head with a groovy shell strewn hat.

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  8. If we ever shop down that way, I will watch for you!

    I love charm bracelets. My friend has two (she had to start a second) with beautiful charms from so many places. And they make such a fun sound!

    One of the tourist regrets I still have was a lovely enamel bookmark. My continued pining for it inspired me to start a bookmark collection; they are easy to store, cheap, and can be found almost anywhere. So far I have…um…two. But I'm hoping to add many more exotic (can bookmarks be exotic?) ones in the future.

    The other thing I like to do is press leaves and flowers from various places. My journal is full of them.

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  9. I received a 5" lizard once hiding in a bunch of grapes I bought from Costco. Is that a souvenir? It lived for almost a year. I guess the irradiation caught up with him.

    I bought my very favorite apron as a souvenir. It's too cute, and I'm afraid to get it dirty. I still love it, though.

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  10. -Justine–that is great! But did you scream when you first found it? I think I probably would have closed the bag back up and waited till my husband got home to officially make the lizard a pet, though.

    One of my favorites is a multicolored glass clock from Venice. It was kind of like Dalene's story. I went back to the store several times trying to talk myself out of it and just before I had to run back to catch our ferry, I bought it. I love it because I can picture the store and the rainy, grey day I got to spend in Venice.

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  11. I had to laugh at this because we are a no pets house. This year for Christmas, SANTA brought hemrit crabs (and also braved the websites…).

    To be honest, I thought they would just die….. to my dismay, they have proven to be heartier than I imagined. Even after moving them to the garage (they are LOUD) and then being totally forgotten about by their 8 year old owner, they hung on. They were recently re discovered and fed/watered. The little stinkers are unkillable.

    There is a reason that we are not a pet family. They don't do well at our house. Good luck with your hermit crabs. I hope they are as hearty as ours.

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  12. Justine–A lizard? In your grapes? Dude.

    I have to admit, I'm not very good at souvenirs. I tend to feel like they are clutter after a few years. But I feel guilty tossing them, so then they just sort of float around my own crabitat for a while…

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  13. Love the lizard in the grapes story, Justine! You are brave.

    In second grade here the kids study pets. And twice my kids have been given one of them. The first was a hermit crab, that my friend graciously added to her collection when we left on vacation. The second was an anole that ate live crickets! That was an adventure! This one we gave to the pet store before we left on vacation. Thank goodness for vacations (except it doesn't work for our dog. Just an expensive kennel and we have to take her back when we get home).

    My favorite souvenir is probably my olive oil decanter from Spain. We went to a glass blowing factory and I bought one of the gracefully shaped decanters with a cool old cork in the top. I managed to carry it home on the plane without breaking it. (My other favorite was from the same trip, a pottery bowl from Germany, but my son broke that years ago).

    Pieces of the world in a bowl is so poetic. We should all do that!

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