We lost Turbo the first night. I found it in the morning dangling half out of its green, racing-striped shell. There were no signs of life. Molting, I hoped. Dead, I feared. We separated Turbo from its cage mates and waited a day.
Let me just say this: The saltwater-stench of a dead hermit crab will gag you unless you’ve spent your life on the docks. Even then, I wouldn’t advise sticking your nose all up on a dead hermit crab and inhaling. It’s like all the bait on every ramshackle pier on every sea-lashed coast swam into your nostrils and broke wind. It’s not pleasant.
We lost Stephen Hopkins a week later. This was troubling. On their first day in our home, Stephen Hopkins had been the one to lead the exploration of the cage. We found it at one point clinging to the wire mesh while it attempted to unlatch the little round door with its free claw.
Hermit crabs are escape artists, you know.
Dead is Dead
We held out hope for a day that molting was the cause of Stephen Hopkins’ listless, unresponsive, dead look. Turned out that hermit crab looked dead because it was dead. Ugh, that smell. Shiver. Farewell, Stephen Hopkins.
And then there was one.
Master Mysterious, with a black pirate Jolly Roger paint job on its shell, was Jay’s very own. Turbo had belonged to Chris, and Stephen Hopkins was mine. That’s how the boys divided them when we went to the pet store, anyway. We all got to name our own hermit crab, and we would share the responsibility of caring for them.
I must interject here that I always considered myself something of an authority on hermit crabs. I bought my first one in 1978 during a visit with my grandma in South Florida. I named it Hermie and bought it a little cage with toothpick-like wood bars. Hermie clawed through five of those toothpick bars the first night and escaped into the South Florida humidity. Hermit crabs like it moist.
Over the years, I owned maybe a dozen hermit crabs. It was a thing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I was just a bit older than our sons are now. We would race them in cardboard boxes-turned-super speedways. We would let them crawl up our arms and squeal like idiots when they pinched our fingers.
Dad, Can I Have a Hermit Crab? How About Now? Can I Have One Now? Now? Dad. Dad. Daddy. I Want a Hermit Crab. Please? Hey, Dad. I. Want. A. Hermit. Crab!
Jay, our older son, began to ask for a pet hermit crab even before the summer began in earnest. It got to the point where we had to ban the word “hermit crab” around the house. There is no nag quite like the nag of a 7-year-old boy with his heart set on a new pet.
We promised him a hermit crab when we returned from our annual vacation to Cape Cod, where the hermit crabs are plentiful and tiny and are entirely unsuited for domestication. He accepted the compromise and waited, taking solace from the Hermit Crabs for Dummies guide book we bought to keep him occupied and help him prepare for the responsibility of pet ownership.
On the day we returned from Cape Cod, I figured, why wait? So, we headed to the local giant chain pet store and bought everything we’d need.
I’ll not delve too deeply into the details of our preparations. I’ll simply say this: We did everything right. We followed the instructions to the letter, and – remember – I have had more than passing experience with hermit crabs as pets.
And yet …
Master Mysterious is gone now, too. We hoped – again – it was molting. It had been the least active of the three from the beginning, yet each night it had moved to a new location in the cage and had eaten some of the apple pieces and hermit crab food we laid out. It also drank water and dug holes to nest in. As hermit crabs do.
Dignity in the Face of Death
Hermit crabs also die. That much I remember from the old days. Fortunately, I had given the boys fair warning: These shelled creatures are delicate. We have to be very conscious of making them as comfortable as possible, and even then they might not make it.
I hate that I was right to be cautious, to tamp down their enthusiasm for the first pets that were “theirs.” Yet, I’m proud of them for taking the deaths as well as they have. I expected tears, or at least a show of despondency. There was, instead, a dignified memorial marker once the overwhelmingly horrendous stench of the crab corpse of Master Mysterious had convinced us that we no longer owned hermit crabs.
So … failure? I suppose. These hermit crabs were supposed to live at least a few months. Maybe we got defective crabs, crabs that had become so inured to the cramped pet store life of five dozen hermits crammed into one aquarium that the shock of moving into their own space was too much to take. Maybe they were diseased.
(Maybe they were molting. God, I hope not. Because that would make me a crab killer, and I … I just couldn’t live with myself.)
It’s hard to call this a failure, though, after seeing how the boys dealt with the grand experiment and its gruesome outcome.
The cage is a melancholy site now, a still-smelly reminder of dashed expectations and disappointment. I’ll clean it out tomorrow morning. I need to get it out of there, because we’re going to need someplace to put the hamster cage.
By the way, do hamsters molt? Seems like we’re going to want to know that.
Author’s note: This post has begun to show up in a lot of Internet searches for terms like [dead hermit crab]. If you have come here looking for actual information about whether a hermit crab is molting or dead, I apologize for the lack of data in the entertainment piece above. This link to hermit-crabs.com might be of more assistance. Thank you for reading.