14 Jan 2004

The Case of the Burrowing Hermit

Dear Blue Lobster:

Is molting-time the only time hermit crabs burrow down into the substrate? My small hermie has completely buried herself down under the moss that is in one corner of her habitat. The habitat is a 20-gallon aquarium with about 3 inches of sand over 80% of it. For variety, I put a gravel area in one corner and a moss area in another. Maybe she just likes the moss, but I am concerned that she might be starting to molt. There are 3 other crabs in the tank, one a little bit larger than her, and 2 that are quite a bit larger.

... I know you aren't supposed to move a molting crab, but considering that she's buried herself in moss rather than sand (and the moss isn't even very moist), and she is not isolated from these larger hermies.... Should I just leave her be??

Dear Gentle Sir:

It sounds to me like your hermit crab is depressed. Like people, hermit crabs often seek dark places when experiencing emotional lows. Since your crab is not fully-grown, this could be a case of adolescent depression as your hermit tries to find its place in the world and establish a unique personal identity for itself; however, it's also possible that this is a chronic hormonal imbalance that will require medication and therapy. Hurry your hermit crab to the vet to get a full diagnosis.

In the meantime, you can try to brighten your hermit crab's life up a little with some music. As your hermit crab lives in the sand, under bright lights, something upbeat like the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean are good choices. Place a little speaker next to or inside of the tank and play at a moderate volume. Your hermit and his tank mates can have little beach parties which will also induce exercise and a friendly environment, two things great for beating depression. Avoid music like Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails which will only serve to further sink your crab into melancholy.

Another idea to bring joy into your hermit crab's life is to introduce decorations to the tank. You can find a variety of miniature castles at your local pet supply store, as well as fake divers, treasure chests, and palm trees. Action figures could add a new dimension of life to the tank too. Fellow crustaceans will make your hermit crab feel more at ease with his new plastic neighbors and engender a sense of crustacean fraternization that will boost his confidence, making him feel part of the in crowd.

12 Jan 2004

Largest Cray Ever Found?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I read that one of the largest crayfish ever found was 90lbs and 6 feet long. They found it in Louisiana in 1934 and named it Old Papa Spice. They did not say, but I assume it would be a Red Swamp cray since they are native to that area. Does anyone know if this is true? If anyone has any info on this please email me. It sounds crazy, but I dont know why it would be made up.

Thanks, Daniel

Dear Gentle Sir:

Crayfish come in all sizes, some no larger than the top knuckle of your pinky and some larger than your average lapdog. Of course no one cares about the smallest ones when there are real monsters creeping around the dark corners of the world. Through time there have been some very large crayfish indeed, so let's look at a few examples of record-breaking crays.

Ol' Papa Épicé astounded Louisiana in 1934, but let's not forget that for publicity's sake the accepted measurement of 6 feet included his antennae. More accurate reports claim that the actual length from head to tail was 3 feet, 4 inches and weight was somewhere around 30lbs. Nonetheless these numbers are impressive since no other American cray reaches anywhere near these proportions. Since the species was never recorded doubts of authenticity suggest that the cray may have been a marine lobster introduced into a brackish swamp pool. DNA testing of the carapace has been inconclusive thus far.

In Borneo during World War II another creature waved its gargantuan claws into history. Bagaton (Kadazan-Dusun for big jar) was found by Australian marines patrolling swamps. Measuring an amazing 4 feet, 2 inches and weighing 49lbs, Bagaton resembled marine lobsters from that region of the world but was caught in a freshwater pool. Taxonomists theorize that Bagaton is a marine species that had re-adapted to fresh water within the last several millennia. Again, lack of further scientific testing leaves us with more questions than answers, though the Bagaton corpse is still in relatively good condition for future research.

Prehistoric crayfish and lobsters handily beat today's record-holders for size and weight. Cruising the warm, shallow seas millions of years ago we find several bizarre specimens. The Anomalocarids, ancient crustaceans with pincer-like appendages and flexible body armor, actively swam and hunted food. Some species grew to lengths of five feet. Meganychus grew to lengths of eight feet and featured a set of claws that spanned four feet when fully splayed! Another genus, Gigaeurys, was almost as long as it was wide (six feet) and is thought to have been an evolutionary dead end that was as closely related to crabs as it was to true lobsters and crays.

Other, even larger, prehistoric fossils found off the coast of Japan inspired myths of the Ebirah, a giant sea monster that guarded an island of treasure from the outside world. Thanks to the myths and the fossil species, this 20 foot long primitive lobster relative, thought to be capable of vocalizations meant to stun prey, eventually found its way into cinema in the 1966 Toho masterpiece Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. Sadly for crustaceanists everywhere Godzilla made short work of the giant lobster champion with his atomic breath.

11 Jan 2004

The Case of the Disappearing Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have one female blue crayfish living in a 15 gallon tank with a filter. Lately, the tank has been getting green on the inside walls and you cannot see the crayfish! I have to clean the tank out regularly, and every time it comes back. Am I doing something wrong? I at first thought I was overfeeding her, but I didn't feed her as often and it came back. If anybody can help, it would be appreciated.

Dear Gentle Sir:

It sounds to me like you have an algae problem! Though usually not serious, algae can effect water pH and oxygen levels. In the very least it's unsightly, like streaks in your toilet bowl during a family gathering. There are a few simple steps you can take to prevent this algae, none of which are very expensive.

  • Run your lights no more than eight hours a day. Any more than this and the algae will experience abnormal growth. Most crayfish habitat doesn't experience any more than eight hours of sun a day, so the cray won't be phased at all. Remember, like vampires, crayfish stalk for food at night under the cover of darkness and so prefer the dim shade that an unlit tank affords.

  • Get a scrubber. These simple tools are have a foam pad on the end, one side of which has a mildly abrasive surface. Going over the tank walls with a scrubber once a week is usually enough to maintain visibility and there's little to no disruption to the tank itself, especially when compared with introducing other animals into the aquarium. They usually sell for around a dollar.

  • Ghost Shrimp! These magical creatures, transparent save for their internal organs, sift through detritus and debris. Algae growth can be spurred by decaying foodstuffs so a fleet of Ghost Shrimp scanning the tank floor can prevent the cloudiness an algal bloom brings to the environment. At just 33¢ a piece you can not only clean up the tank for very cheap but also add some excitement with their gentle antics.

Good luck with your algal problems and just remember: Several cultures harvest kelp and algae to make flour and baked goods. Perhaps if you find it impossible to control the algal bloom you can do reap the benefits of a free food source! Your crayfish will not mind the intrusion, thinking it playtime with some five-legged water creature. Remember to tickle his or her belly; they love it and wriggle wildy in carefree abandon! Bon appétit and happy scrubbing!

7 Jan 2004

The Case of the Upside-Down Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have had my crayfish for just about two years. Today we found him laying upside down in the tank. When we went to get him thinking he was dead he started walking around. Then a few momoents later he was on his side again. I am guessing he is coming to an end? Anyone ever had this happen.


Dear Gentle Sir:

Remember dear old Dad, reclining in his hammock, content and at peace with the world after a hard day's work? He wanted nothing more than to just sit back and relax with a nice iced tea and the breeze to keep him company, cooling him in the dying glow of the summer sun. In many ways, your crayfish is behaving a lot like dear old Dad, reclining nude on its back, waving its legs gently. There is one thing, however, that differs sharply.

Your crayfish is about to die very, very soon.

How would you treat your dying father? Make your cray as comfortable as possible: monitor the water temperature and test the pH and water chemistry. Throw a live maggot or worm to him occasionally, even holding it with some sort of instrument up to its mouth-parts. Perhaps moving the cray to a softer spot might help, and covering him in water vegetation before you go to bed for the night would be appropriate too. Fortunately your crayfish needs no bed-pan, but be sure to knock loose any feces that may be trailing from its anus.

Concerns after your crayfish die are much different. You will have to decide on disposal. Some choose a simple flush down a toilet, while others opt to stuff and mount the cray for continued enjoyment throughout the years. One little girl who wrote in claimed that she buried her crayfish under her back yard in a shoe box, complete with eulogy! Though frowned upon my most serious crustaceanists, cooking and eating the dead crayfish is an option too, but be sure that the cray is either still alive or freshly dead as dead crayfish harbor many disgusting bacteria that don't belong in the human gut!

As for your own grieving, I suggest getting a new crayfish as soon as possible. Perhaps it would feel good to start with a crayby or maybe to go out and buy that exotic that yabby you've always fantasized about. Whatever the case, grief is often overcome while keeping busy and there's no better way to keep busy than with a new cray. Even a fiddler crab harem or some ghost shrimp might be a good way to get back on the crustacean horse after this crushing personal blow to you.

With much sympathy I wish you luck.