Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Tap-talking to Patience

I know how to speak "hermit crab"! I just managed to suggest a good idea and actually get it across!

I am supposed to be posting one photo and going off to bed; tomorrow's another very busy day. But I can't wait to tell this story.

It started sometime after Christmas. When all the kids were coming for dinner, I had counted all the animals in my tank, and made a list for them; could they find every one? There were 11 hermit crabs, in three species; Grainy Hand hermits, with the blue spots, Hairy hermits, black and white, and the tiny Greenmark hermits, with the orange highlights.

Sometime in February, I counted again. I couldn't find all the Grainy Hands. And a couple of them seemed rather lethargic. I monitored them for a while, until a few died. Then a few Hairy hermits, too. I changed the water, and removed empty shells, and watched. More died. And the rest of the Grainy Hands, my favourites for their personality, their curiosity and mutual helpfulness, looked sick. They lay around, barely moving, not eating.

I removed them to a bowl with clean water, a "hospital" bowl. I babied them, changing the water twice daily, tempting them with bits of food which they ignored. All but one of them died, anyhow.

The one, whom I'm calling "Patience" for now, although I'm not sure of her sex, rested in the bowl for a week, lying upside-down in the shell, barely even moving her mouth parts. But she didn't die, and gradually seemed more alert. After some time, she started to be interested in food again, but couldn't walk. When I positioned her shell in walking position, she struggled a bit, slid around, then the shell rolled out of control again, and she ended up with her feet up. There she stayed, day in and day out. I fed her in this position.

Finally, none of the remaining hermits in the tank, all small Hairies and Greenmarks, seemed sick; maybe the epidemic had run itself out. I returned her to the tank. She liked that; she lay on her back, catching at pieces of seaweed that floated past and nibbling on it. She was active enough: she stretched and twisted, reaching for seaweed, pulling it towards her, but always still lying upside-down.

Several times a day, I rolled her over into walking position. She would start working on the shells and sand, picking up things she found, but when she tried to walk to the next spot, she scrabbled uselessly on the sand until she ended up on her back again.

I thought that maybe she is weaker now, she needs to gain weight and strength again. That big shell might be just too heavy for her. I found her a few smaller shells of the type she likes, and laid them close at hand for her, but she didn't seem to get the idea.

I've been remembering how one hermit convinced another to trade shells; he held the other's shell face to face, then jerked it and clicked it against his shell. Could I do that?

Tonight, I took Patience out of the tank and held her loosely in my hand, but underwater. She seemed contented enough, picking at the skin of my thumb, tasting it. I picked out the best of the smaller shells, and tapped her face opening with it, gently, gently. She retreated into her shell, and I repeated the tapping. Nothing happened. I put her back in the tank beside the proposed home; she reached for it, then slipped and rolled onto her back again.

I tried again. I held her with my hand just under the surface of the tank water and tapped again, once. Suddenly, she slipped out of her big shell, rolled up and off my hand into the tank. I put the small shell down beside her and kept the big one. And she didn't even bother to examine the new shell; she just popped into it, rolled it over to walking position, and hurried off to get a bite to eat.

Yay! She can't be happier than I am! And she is happy; she's been wandering here and there, nibbling at everything she finds. Here she is, a few minutes after the switch:

Patience, waving celebratory red flags.

You see why I've named her Patience. If at some time, she turns out to be male, I'll rename her Job. Whichever it is, she/he's a survivor.

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9 comments:

Marion said...

I think you must be the crab whisperer!! How patient you were with that tiny crab!

I wonder what was wrong with all the rest...hope all the rest of the residents are ok!!

texwisgirl said...

oh i bet you're thrilled she's able to move around again on her own! how awesome! you did a great job! i think YOUR name is patience... :)

Clytie said...

This story warmed my heart. I'm sorry you lost so many hermit crabs, but to have gone through the lengths you went to save Patience is remarkable. This is just another reason why you amaze me!!!

Blue Heron Moon said...

Congrats; you have truly earned your crab physician degree. I sure hate that you lost some of your crabs.

dragonflywoman said...

Wow! I'm so impressed! This sort of thing is why it's great to read about the natural history of any animals you have, so you can understand them and know how to respond when things go wrong. So happy your crab made it through!

Cindy said...

Oh I got tears in my eyes. Reading this was such a treat. What personality your little guy has. What trust. Sorry to hear about the other fellas/gals, but this is a happy interval. I miss saltwater critters. sigh.

Powell River Books said...

I think you are the one who should be named Patience. I finally got to White Rock today and thought of you looking in every nook and cranny for those amazing photos. I got a few quick ones, but gave in to the chill in the air and wind pretty quick. That is a great story and how you found the answer to her/his problem. - Margy

PSYL said...

A pretty amazing story. Glad to see a happy ending.

Patricia Lichen said...

What a great story! (And I love your "About Me" description!

Here's hoping Patience/Job continues to do well!