Here on Sanibel and Captiva we commonly see three species of hermit crabs: the green-striped hermit crab (Clibanarius vittatus), the tricolor hermit crab (Clibanarius tricolor), and the giant red hermit crab (Petrochirus diogenes). These crazy critters are easily recognized and observed crawling around in the shallows by beachgoers, but are rarely seen changing shells.
Our hermit crab friends belong to the order Decapoda, which literally translates to “ten-feet”. All hermit crabs have 5 pairs of walking legs with the first two modified into claws, and the last pair being greatly reduced and used to hold onto a protective shell. Hermits have a segmented body composed of a cephalothorax and a soft abdomen that requires protection from a snail shell they obtain from the environment. These fantastic crustaceans must change shells to accommodate their growth and they prefer shells that fit just right – not too small or not too big. So, when it comes time to choose a new home, these crabs can be quite picky! They often spend hours or even days, exploring new shells but when it comes time to make the switch, it happens in the blink of an eye.
We caught one of our own green-striped hermit crabs as she settled into a shiny new Banded Tulip shell, after her shell suffered damage from a feisty Stone Crab. Enjoy the show – we sure did.