While searching the backwater beach at low tide, I found a big lightning whelk shell encrusted with barnacles. I thought that either it was alive, with the snail inside, or a hermit crab had taken up residence. It turned out to be the latter.
Most of the time hermit crabs will quickly duck down deep inside the shell when they see me approach. I decided to sneak up on this one, just in case. I slowly lifted the shell and the hermit didn’t seem to notice I was there. I continued to take video with my phone while lifting the shell.
A second hermit crab was under the larger one. It was in a banded tulip shell and the big hermit was reaching for it! See the video I took below. It is unusual for a hermit to hang out of it’s shell like this! You can see the barnacles on his back and he really wanted to hang onto that other shell.
I’ve seen hermit crabs gather before and it seems they are trying to roll each other’s shell, like maybe they are checking it out. This large crab could not have been interested in taking the smaller shell, so I have no idea what he was doing.
Once I got my video, I let go of the shell and both crabs popped back inside their shells (photo right).
On this day, I saw quite a few very large hermit crabs. Most were hidden inside the shells. They can stay tucked down inside for a very long time. The shell parts that were in the mud were bright orange but the rest of the shell was covered in muddy barnacles.
All of these very large crabs were inside lightning whelks. This shell is easy to identify by it’s left-side opening. The shell can be very pretty, but as you can see most of these shells are covered in growth and mud. The snails that made the shells have died, and hermit crabs and barnacles have moved in.
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