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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

A side note on crabs

PANAMA | Thursday, 18 September 2008 | Views [3016] | Comments [1]

Hermit crab, trying very hard to run away...

Hermit crab, trying very hard to run away...

I thought I should write a short note on crabs. This is because, as well as innumerable bugs, Central America also seems to be home to a surprising number of crustaceans. Maybe they know that they´re near the tropic of Cancer and therefore think its a good place to live. I don´t know. But one thing´s for certain, you´re never far away from a crab (not sure if its like the rat rule in London – actually, the rat rule probably works here too....). In Costa Rica we lived below a mountain called ´La Cangreja´ (the crab), named, partly because of its shape (like a croissant), partly due to an old indigenous story of some giant spirit crab thing on the mountain, and partly because of the many land crabs that scuttle around the forests enveloping it.

It gives you pause for thought the first time you come across a crab in a tropical forest, miles from the sea. Or on your porch. Or tickling your toes in a waterfall pool.

Granted, there´s also plenty where you´d think they should be, next to the sea. In Manuel Antonio, the great supply of marine snail shells provides a fantastic place for hermit crabs. These are the guys that squat in derelict houses (shells), and then move into bigger ones as they grow. In Manuel Antonio these cute little guys are everywhere. You don´t even need to see them – when you walk along a path, you´re accompanied by a ´clack-clack-clack´ sound, as dozens of the critters see big fat feet coming towards them and decide its time close the blast doors – leaving a path strewn with apparently empty shells with little crabs cowering inside.

Even with the abundance of shells, however, competition is high. Take this sight for instance – a large hermit crab is rammed into his shell, on his back, pincers blocking the entrance, while a slightly smaller crab (let´s call him no.2 crab) is trying to get his pincers inside, so that he can lever out the other crab and nick his more spacious home. This would be a sight in itself, except the no.2 crab has a slightly smaller crab (no.3) attached to his shell, ready to take it if no.2 crab should succeed in evicting no.1 crab. Confused yet? Well, its not over yet - no.3 crab has a crab slightly smaller than him hanging onto his shell, in case no.2 crab successfully evicts no.1 crab, and no.3 crab gets no.2 crab´s shell. And to finish it all off there are at least three other crabs the size of no.2 also waiting around to see if no.2 evicts no.1, so that they can jump in and take no.1´s shell before no.2 gets inside – in which case I would imagine all hell would break lose, as queuing system would totally break down, and there would be hermit crabs everywhere doing whatever the hell they want to, whilst others complain about the break down in law and order and how it was all due to violent computer games. Unfortunately we didn´t have a camera to record this epic battle. I can´t remember my ecology classes being this complicated!

Besides the land crabs and the hermit crabs, we´ve also met fiddler crabs a-plenty. In Bocas del Toro, in Panama (story to come), it seems that every available space is taken up with fiddler crabs. They vary in size, up to about your thumb, and have one very large claw and a normal one. They each live in their own little hole in the sand, which they´ve burrowed out according to their size (meaning that if you can tell the size of the crab just looking at how big its home is. Their apparent favourite pass-time is to stand a little way from their hole and wave their large claw in the air. When you have hundreds of little crabs waving at you, it can get a little unsettling. I´m uncertain whether the crabs were waving at me (´´hola, big fat gringo, you think you can catch mi?¨ or ¨Ey, gringo, I wave my big claw in your general directhion¨), or whether they hadn´t noticed me yet, and where instead having some sort of crab beach party. Probably the latter. When they do notice you, they usually stop waving to their neighbours, and take a few slow steps toward their bolt hole, little beady eyes fixed on your next move. Crabs have two gears – slow and afterburner. If you continue to walk towards them they switch gears, and instead of the clack of shells hitting dirt (as with hermit crabs), you get the oral equivalent of ´zip, zip, zip´, as dozens of crabs fly sideways down their holes at incredible speed.

I´m looking forward to what type of crabs we´re going to meet next. Maybe ones that play the Macarena.

Tags: crabs, ecology, the macarena



HAHA! I have a story of a crab as well! I was on a mission trip this year with my Church Youth group in south carolina. We were going to the Aquarium on our off day and all was same old aquarium stuff until i passed a tank that had all sorts of fish and a crab or two in it and as i passed, it started walking with me and waving at me, i was fortunate enough to get it on video! It was one of the funniest things ive seen in a while, i've never been waved at by a crab.

  Fushiko Jun 16, 2009 4:05 AM

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