Hermit Crabs information file for children
Hermit Crabs for the younger student (NE Atlantic species only)
Intertidal Crabs: British Coast
Because that's the way their
legs bend. Muscles work in pairs. A muscle can only retract, or pull; to
lengthen again it must relax and be pulled back by another 'antagonistic'
muscle. The muscle blocks in crabs are attached to the inner surface of
the exoskeleton, including the ten tubular legs, including the legs with
claws, or chelae, as well as other appendages. Crabs do not have
ball-and-socket joints but the legs pivot at numerous peg-in-socket joints
that are sealed by flexible chitin, and can move in one plane (similar
to our knee). Each joint moves in a different plane, and so together they
allow the crab to move in all directions like our shoulder and hip joints.
However, many crabs have joints in their legs moving in a restricted number
of planes so that they can only move sideways. The sharp ends of each leg
grip on to surfaces and can grip on to tiny irregularities (watch a Hermit
Crab climbing up an almost smooth rock). In some crabs, the rear legs are
shaped like paddles for limited swimming.
Many crabs like the Shore Crab or the Velvet Swmming Crab, Necora puber, (above) need to scamper sideways to avoid the legs getting tangled up with each other.
exoskeleton = external skeleton (see the above article for details of moulting, ecdysis).
is a very dense medium, about 830 times as dense as air, and has a viscosity
about 60 times that of air. This means that marine life does not require
the supporting skeletons of land dwellers; the large spider crabs will
collapse out of the water. Water is more difficult to move through, and
marine creatures have evolved shapes to minimise the resistance. This can
be seen in the flattened bodies of many common crabs.
for the younger reader
How to tell the age of a crab (when dead) New Scientist Research
Lobster's Meal Time (BMLSS Scotland)
Mantis Shrimps (British)
Spider Crab, Maja squinado
Spider Crab, Maja squinado (Shoreham)
Shrimps and Prawns
Occasionally they will fall in sandy pools and will slide along leaving a furrow until they make their way onto hard surfaces on which they settle when the tide goes out, feeding on microalgae when the tide comes in. But not every snail shell moving across a pool is a live mollusc. A careful eye will spot that the snail is not moving in its normal manner. Picking up the snail, the rockpooler may be pleasantly surprised to discover two tiny orange claws sticking out of the opening: a small Hermit Crab has taken up residence in the old shell.
Young Hermit Crabs
Juvenile Hermit Crabs are common on rocky shores in all months of the year and there were many reports of these fascinating crustaceans in January 1997 when on many shores the fauna was exceptionally sparse. They were seen on the shore immediately following the period of exceptionally cold weather, but this probably reflects the human presence between the tides. Of the 15 or so species recorded regularly in British seas, the species known as the Common Hermit Crab, Pagurus bernhardus, is by far the commonest. If the major claw is on the right side nearest the apex, you can almost certainly assume that a Hermit Crab found between the tides is this species. All the others are so unusual as to be worth a mention on the web pages.
Continual fights and squabbles are the result of keeping several Hermit Crabs in the same aquarium. This can be explained by the need for the crab to protect its soft abdomen with a borrowed shell. The crab adopts a univalve (snail-like) mollusc shell, which it carries around on its back throughout its life. Fights occur when the crabs dispute the available shells.
Mating and Moulting
Like all decapod (ten-legged) crustaceans, Hermit Crabs mate, and afterwards the female carries the eggs underneath her coiled abdomen for several months when she is are said to be 'in berry'. In the Common Hermit Crab, Pagurus bernhardus, the eggs hatch into larvae in the first two months of the year. At this hazardous stage they will undergo moults like all crustaceans.
The first planktonic stages are called zoea. Later when they develop claws (chelae) they are termed megalopa, before they settle on the sea floor and and search around for a gastropod shell to inhabit. Hermit Crabs are widespread on different demersal habitats, and the choice of shell depends on what is available. Pheasant Shells, Tricolia pullus, and Little Netted Dogwhelk Shells, Hinia incrassata, are a popular early choice on mid-Sussex shores. These shells can be less than 10 mm high, and as Hermit Crabs continue to moult and grow like other crabs, they need to embark on a constant quest for new and larger shells to inhabit.
In most cases they will use empty shells of dead snails, but squabbles for possession of occupied shells occur frequently in the wild. A Hermit Crab dispossessed of its home by a more aggressive crab of the same species is vulnerable to attack by its many enemies. It is fun to discover exactly what species of gastropod mollusc the inhabited shell used to belong to. In Sussex, the shells of the Periwinkle, as well as the Grey Topshell, Gibbula cineraria, and the Common Netted Dogwhelk, Hinia reticulata, are often occupied. Common Hermit Crabs will eventually grow large enough to occupy the commodius shelter of the Common Whelk, Buccinum undatum, This is the largest gastropod found in the shallow seas around the British Isles.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Hermit Crab behaviour is their association with other animals. Acorn Barnacles, tubeworms and hydroids will frequently settle on the outside of the shell. And one species of hydroid, Hydractinia echinata, is found on their shells and nowhere else.
Small Hermit Crab with a shell adorned with the hydroid, Hydractinia echinata, although the furry appearance of the hydroid is not very clear in this photograph.
A ragworm, Nereis fucata, even resides in the spiral end of the larger whelk shells, poking its head out to feed on the fragments of the crab's meal. However, the most spectacular of the commensal relationships is the sharing of the shell with a species of sea anemone. One anemone species that is found on large Hermit Crabs in the south and west only is the brownish Calliactis parasitica (pic). The sea anemone is the active partner in the relationship with this species of Hermit Crab. Another species of Hermit Crab called Pagurus prideauxi shares a mutual relationship with the Cloak Anemone, Adamsia palliata.
Hermit Crabs are omnivorous scavengers, picking up scraps from the surface of rocks and shredding larger items. They also filter feed, extracting living plankton from the sea on fine setae and other appendages.
Hermit Crabs are classified
in the infraorder Anomura of the order Decapoda
in the subphylum Crustacea of the phylum Arthropoda.
They are not true crabs like the Brachyura
and can be differentiated by the reduced rear pair of legs, which can be
seen when the Hermit Crab changes shells.
EMail for Shorewatch Reports of shells occupied by Hermit Crabs
Hermit Crab Pagurus bernhardus Database
(Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group)
Crustacean EBiota of Cetaceans (notes only)
Decapod Crustacea DataBase (under construction)
Lepeophtheirus nordmanni (copepod)
Lobster's Meal Time (BMLSS Scotland)
Stomatopods (Lurker's Guide) (External)
Taxa of CrustaceaCrustaceans are subdivided into the following groups:
Cladocera - waterfleas, daphnia.