One of the most charming creatures on Vieques is the Caribbean hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus, also known as the soldier crab, the West Atlantic crab and the tree crab. It is a species of land crab native to the Caribbean, South America and the West Indies. Adults burrow and hide under the roots of large trees, and can be found scuttling about considerable distances inland, especially in early evening or morning. On Vieques, hermit crabs have been found on the highest peaks of the island, ready for the long scuttle back to the sea to lay their eggs.

DID YOU KNOW?

These animals do lead solitary lives; seeking each other out only to mate – hence the hermit designation.

Female land hermit crabs release fertilized eggs into the ocean, taking great care not to get carried off by the surf. They cannot swim or breathe underwater as their aquatic cousins can. This spawning (called

“washing” in the English-speaking Caribbean) occurs on certain nights of the brightest moon, usually around August.

To protect themselves they move into empty shells of marine mollusks, shifting to new, abandoned shells as they grow. If no shell is available, the crab must procure alternative materials. (I remember seeing a bright red plastic spray can lid scurrying through the lawn one evening only to discover it was home to a fair-sized hermit crab. I wanted to paint racing-stripes on the lid to complete the effect.)

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Although hermit crabs are edible they are often captured for use as fish bait.

Caribbean hermit crabs are both herbivorous and detritivorous, feeding on animal and plant remains.

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Hermit crabs are more closely related to lobsters than to other crabs.

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During the change in shell size multiple hermit crabs have been observed moving in and out of shells previously inhabited by other hermit crabs, a social structure known as a vacancy chain.

INSIDER TIP

Across the street from Belly Buttons there are steps that lead down to the beach. Walk down these steps and look around the roots of the palm trees. You are sure to see baby hermit crabs skittering about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Scott Appell
writer • horticulture

Scott D. Appell, the Green Man, originally from NYC, is a garden writer, horticultural taxonomist and ethnobotanist. He writes, gardens, and teaches horticulture. He happens to be a professional baker as well.

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