Mother Nature likes to play cruel jokes on us. I woke up on a bright Sunday morning and got up to feed Kiwi some crickets and check on Crabbie to see if he had eaten his dinner or needed more turtle pellets. As I’m looking for him in his different houses and hiding places, I see the underbelly of a crab lying face up at the entrance of his house. My heart starts racing because 1) crabs don’t sleep like that and 2) crabs have the ability to flip themselves over and need to come out of the water every 10-20 minutes to get a fresh breath of air. Also, now all I can think about is “oh, crap. Did I kill the crab?” and everything I did for the last three months starts flashing through my mind. Every tank cleaning, feeding, movement, etc.
So, I get the fish net and a small container to scoop out the body, as I’m using the net to remove the body from his house it catches on the edge and flips over. I’m expecting to see the whole crab; top of his shell, eyes, and the rest of his body but instead, the top half is missing and all I see are the two large muscles on either side of the central part of his body. Now I’m thinking, “oh my god, the crab exploded” and a whole lot of other terrifying thoughts but suddenly, in the far back corner of the cave, I see a leg twitch. Great. Crabbie cloned himself.
After, my rational mind took over for the crazy scenarios that were taking hold in my head, I realized that this was a normal part of a cardisoma armatum’s (rainbow crab) life. Crabbie was molting, a way of losing his old, smaller shell and growing a new, bigger one. Basically, as he grows his shell eventually becomes too small so one day he’ll absorb water and just flex the large muscles in his body causing his shell to split open. Then, he climbs out of it and will spend about a week waiting for his new soft shell to re-harden while consuming the old one for the beneficial calcium. Similar to the way a lizard sheds its skin and then eats it.
Dantes threw his arms around his new friend, for whom he had waited so long and impatiently, and drew him over to the window, so that he could see him as clearly as possible in the dim light which entered the cell. – THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, Alexandre Dumas
The moment I realized my beloved friend was still alive, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. The feeling of elation and happiness most definitely confirms the saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” So, I suppose Crabbie taught me the lesson of cherishing the people and animals that surround you and make up your everyday life. You never know when they might leave your life or in this case, split in half and leave their shell at the front of their cave almost giving their owner a panic attack.
Here’s a little “underwater footage” of Crabbie in his cave, made using an iPod Touch in a Ziploc bag: