Sand, Shells, and Waves

by Janice Troyer | Feb 8, 2022 | 0 comments

Hermit crabs on sandy beach

It was morning on the seashore. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, sending a warm glow over the dozens of little waves at its feet. The sea gulls were already calling and swooping over the sand and water.

From his tight little crevice in between two rocks about 50 feet (15 m) from shore, Nick, the hermit crab, sleepily listened to the gulls’ cries. His house was indeed a snug one. Nick was curled up in the very back of his house, tight against the smooth shell walls.

Nick yawned and stretched his pinchers out in front of him. As he peeked out the front door, he couldn’t see much more than water. His shell was completely submerged underwater, but he could make out the sandy bottom of the ocean, and some pale green anemones sitting in the sand. It never ceased to puzzle Nick how you could spend your days sitting at the base of a rock and never go much of anywhere, like the anemones did. And starfish were more puzzling creatures. Nick was never able to see them actually move, but the next day he noticed they were in different spots from the night before.

Since Nick was nocturnal, he yawned again and curled up tighter and went to sleep for the day. After having been up all night feeding on plant and animal remains, he was tired and ready for a long rest.

Nick woke up just after the sun had slid down in the west. The sea gulls had quieted, and although the roar of the ocean was as loud as ever, there was a calm peace in the dark sky, sand, and waves silver in the moonlight.

He was ravenously hungry. He uncurled his pinchers and waved them out the front door. Nick couldn’t help but notice how tight his shell was becoming. He would have to keep his eyes open for a new home. He was aware how dangerous it was if a hermit crab couldn’t completely retract into its shell. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t pull the ends of his pinchers all the way out of sight.

Nick scurried along underneath the water, searching for something to eat. He found little bits of seaweed, coral, and anemones that he rapidly ate. Then finally he found a real treasure—the remains of a little crab. Nick ate what he wanted and left the rest.

His stomach satisfied, Nick ambled along the yards of rocks and sand, ever on the lookout for predators. All of a sudden he stopped short. There, right in front of his eyes was a huge shell. It looked like an old snail shell. And it was empty. There were three crabs lined up beside the shell, biggest to smallest, all waiting. Waiting for what?

Nick cautiously ventured closer. He peered inside the shell. It was indeed empty. It had smooth, sea-washed walls. Nick rolled it over with his pinchers. He examined every inch of that shell. Finally with a feeling of disappointment, Nick had to admit the shell was too large.

Having nothing else to do, Nick took his place at the end of the line of crabs. He felt like he shouldn’t leave this beautiful shell. So he decided to wait. He didn’t know why or what he was waiting for, but instinct told him something good might come along if he simply waited.

It was the hour just before dawn when Nick and all the other hermit crabs stiffened to attention. A large hermit crab was slowly, tediously, making his way toward the big shell. He stopped and examined the shell from a distance. Nick was breathless with waiting. Finally the crab ventured to take a look inside the shell. He studied it awhile and then gingerly poked the shell with his pinchers, rolling it over. He rolled it over and over. He stuck his pinchers inside and wriggled them. At last he must have decided this was the shell for him, for he crawled out of his own shell and into the new one.

Immediately the biggest crab that had been waiting in line hopped out of its old shell and into the other one. Every other crab followed suit, exchanging shells swiftly. Nick found himself safe and snug in a new, spacious shell. The walls were smooth and clean, sporting a faint touch of pink. The back room was large enough that Nick was able to curl his whole soft body out of sight. Nick glanced back at his old shell, sitting forlornly on the sand.

And then the sky in the east began to grow lighter. A sea gull called once. Nick was sleepy. It was morning on the seashore.

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