Are Soldier Crab Homes Collecting Dust in Your Home?
By Lois Blumenthal (printed in the Trust Times, July, 2000)
Whelk shells. Once they were plentiful all over the islands, but that has changed. Tourists and beachcombers pick up every shell they can find, and most of these are sitting on windowsills and in boxes under the bed in the kid’s room. These shells are important homes for Soldier Crabs, (also called Hermit Crabs).
This Soldier Crab is using a very old chipped shell in desperation. New shells are very hard to come by these days!
Soldier Crabs have been seen recently sporting bottle caps, measuring spoons, bits of PVC pipe and other assorted junk they find in the places where once they could choose the perfect size shell for their armour.
This Soldier Crab couldn't find a shell at all and resorted to a discarded piece of PVC pipe
The Whelks too are in trouble. This delicious traditional Cayman Islands staple has been over-harvested and it is reported that the pickings are smaller and less plentiful every year. The Whelk shortage also affects the Soldier Crabs that depend upon the shells.
If all that isn’t enough, Soldier Crabs are also loosing their habitat under the dried leaves of Sea Grape trees. Since most development is along the coast, the Sea Grapes and the Soldier Crabs are disappearing fast. If you live on a coastal lot, and are lucky enough to have a mature Sea Grape tree, consider leaving some of the lovely brown leaves on the ground, under the tree as nature intended. Save your back and your dollars and don’t rake! The crabs will thank you, and you will learn to love the beautiful golden brown hues of the Sea Grape leaves as they carpet the ground.
You may even find the bright orange edible Chanterelle mushrooms sprouting up after a heavy rain – your reward for caring for nature! –And those Whelk shells that clutter your coffee table? Put them out among the leaves for the Soldier Crabs (and not the beachcombers!) to find.