Virgin Gorda Hermits

As we started our hike up to the top of Virgin Gorda Peak, the highest spot on the nine-mile-long island at 1395 feet, I noticed a nice shell on the path. Weird, I thought, considering our distance from the sea. I picked it up to find a hermit grab tightly tucked inside. I assumed it was dead, something another hiker had dropped, so I put it down on the ground as if they might retrace their path and find it, and continued on. It was, as it turned out, the first of many such shells on the mountain we would run into that day. This is Coenobita clypeatus, the Caribbean hermit crab, a common sight on the island and elsewhere in the region. They are also, evidently, legally sold in the pernicious pet trade.
Most of the ones we saw used West Indian Top Snail shells for their home. It was odd seeing these turban-like seashells, which have a nacreous interior, way up the forested hill. These hermit crabs breed in the sea, and find their repossessed homes there and on the beach, but they scuttle all over the island’s dry slopes and are even known to climb trees. They can live for decades, and often hang out around homes. We saw several in the late afternoon around our villa. Scavengers, they cluster in colonies. Writing about a different species of landcrab in Jamaica (but just as pertinent, even if the mountain is smaller), Leigh Fermor describes their journey as a “long anabasis back to the mountain”. Just so. (That would make the pet traders the Persians.)
This is the claw that gives them the nickname “pincher” but I found the spiky ends of the other legs more successful as defensive mechanisms.

All in all, an excellent organism to celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog (and how apropos the Gould quote).

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