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Crabs That Carry Food and Weapons

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. The ways of crabs never cease to amaze me, and we are fortunate indeed that so many interesting species do exceedingly well in marine aquariums. Today I’d like to draw your attention to certain hermit, arrow, boxing and spider crabs that increase their survival odds by carrying food or weapons wherever they go.

A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

After locating a suitably-sized sea anemone, the anemone hermit crab (Pagurus prideauxi) places the stinging invertebrate on its shell as a deterrent to predators. The anemone attaches itself to the new home, and may benefit by gaining access to leftovers from the crab’s meals. Anemone hermits that I’ve kept have invariably relocating their protectors when switching their own living quarters from one shell to another.

Anemones as Boxing Gloves

Boxing CrabAnother weapon-bearing crustacean, the boxing crab (Lybia tessellata), goes through even greater lengths to arm itself with stinging anemones. This tiny (2.1 inch) fellow has the fascinating habit of carrying small anemones about in its claws. When threatened, it will rear up on its hind legs and wave the “weapons” at the interloper!

Lunch to Go

The ever-popular arrow crab (Sterorhynchus seticornis) is more concerned about food supply than weaponry, and impales food upon its pointy carapace. This is quite comical to see, because, due to the location of the spine, the crab seems to be carrying food about on the tip of its nose! The stored food is consumed when the crab is safe within a retreat, or in times of need.

A Surprising Discovery

The Atlantic spider crab (Libinia emarginata), a temperate relative of the arrow crab, can easily be collected along the eastern coast of the USA. They are inoffensive towards one another and most tank mates, and make interesting aquarium pets.

I still remember my shock upon seeing one wedging kale (provided as food) into the many crevices of its carapace. Eventually, the small crab looked like a walking patch of marine algae…when it ceased moving, its camouflage was perfect (well, nearly perfect…kale doesn’t grow in the sea!).

I later observed spider crabs to pick at and consume bits of their movable garden, so the vegetation serves two purposes (I have not determined if spider crabs will use inedible materials for camouflage, as do decorator crabs and some others). The spider crabs that I have kept gave up this habit upon reaching a carapace size of approximately 4 inches.

The aforementioned crabs are readily available and adjust quite well to aquarium life. I’ll cover their care in detail in future articles. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

Further Reading

The diversity of crab species and lifestyles is astounding. To learn about current research in East Asia (where over 1,000 species have been described) and view some remarkable photos, please visit http://www.dbs.nus.edu.sg/biodiversitii/bio/m_crab.html#major.

I have written about the natural history and captive care of crabs and other crustaceans in The Everything Aquarium Book

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.