In the Crabitat


I’ve had a hermit crab obsession for a while now. And it actually started back in the 1990s when I lived in Florida and bought my first three. I did keep them in a big aquarium, but only provided gravel, a shallow freshwater dish, and pellets of “hermit crab food” from the pet store. I think they lived about two years. And it haunts me.

I have learned so much more about their care and feeding since that time and I like to think I’m making up for my earlier ignorance. These days, I have a 125-gallon tank, saltwater and freshwater pools, lots of climbing structures, and ten inches of sand for them to dig and molt. AND, I’m doing my best to learn how to breed them in captivity so that our pet hermits that we love don’t have to be captured and taken from the wild. A record of my own little captive breeding mission follows.

Artemis with eggs, Day 14

Artemis, with eggs, 14 days after mating.

August 14, 2017: The little crab pictured in the green hamster wheel (which I modified for easier walking using craft mesh and zip ties) is Artemis. She came to live with me on March 14th 2016 and she’s a super social little gadfly. She always greets me when I open the tank to add food or do maintenance. She loves popcorn and will take it directly from my hand. On the right side of the shell in this picture, you can see a dark orange mass. Those are her eggs, which have already darkened from a bright orange, so I know they were correctly fertilized by Kermit (my alpha male). It was fourteen days ago, on July 31st, a few days shy of the full moon, that I witnessed mating behavior between these two, so I know the eggs are 14 days old. I have about two weeks before I need to worry about larval hermit crabs (zoeae), so I’m slowly setting up a makeshift kreisel tank, just to be prepared in the event that she manages to spawn in the salt water dish at the right time. I’m trying hard not to get too excited as I know the likelihood of getting them to land is small, but it has to work sometime, right? And even an unsuccessful attempt adds to the all-important knowledge base.

Makeshift Kreisel

My makeshift kreisel tank.

This is the rudimentary setup for larvae. The surrounding water in the tank is a freshwater “bath” with an adjustable heater keeping the surrounding water (and therefore the water in the jars) evenly warm at 83 degrees Fahrenheit. The jars contain saltwater, an air stone for circulation and oxygen, and eventually the larval hermit crabs. I will also have a jar of replacement saltwater (Instant Ocean) in there for water changes so that the temps are the same. I’ll have a turkey baster for partial water changes, a medicine dropper for moving zoeae, a magnifying glass for getting a better visual, and a flashlight to help pick the zoeae out of the wastewater. Behind the tank is the siphon tube which I will also keep with saltwater in it, up to temp. I need to practice siphoning. It’s been a while.

saltwater poolAnd this is my saltwater pool, where I hope Artemis will spawn. I’ve attempted to make it easy and inviting for a crab to enter the water and drop her eggs or stand at the edge and fling them in, both of which have been observed in wild spawnings. It’s a long, narrow pool, with rocks to create a shallow entry, light bubbles, seashells leading up to the pool, and after this picture I put some additional greenery around it so it feels more sheltered and safe. For my personal benefit, I moved the long edge of the pool right up against the glass so I have a clear visual of the water. Closer to spawning, I will also add my small heater that keeps the water at 78 degrees, just so it doesn’t feel too cold.

Kermit, proud papa

Kermit, proud papa.

 

August 22nd: Got a good glimpse just now, and Artemis’s eggs are definitely turning gray. I turned the heat up a degree because she kept resting right at the back of the tank and up high, which is the warmest area of my tank. It’s 87 degrees at the warmest point now, but there are plenty of cooler spots if she wants them. I think the warmth is helping the eggs develop and guessing it will be only a handful of days before spawning. I’m so nervous now. Every time she falls from something or gets too close to the freshwater, I get anxious, hoping the eggs will be fine. We’re so close! I think I’ll change out the saltwater pool tomorrow morning. It’s a little early schedule-wise, but I want it to be as fresh and inviting as possible for the next week.

Baby shells

Baby shells

August 23rd: I just added another option—a small “tide pool” using a reptile rock. It’s shallow (about 2″ deep) and not aerated, but it gives her another option for dropping the eggs, just in case the big pool is too deep and scary. I’ll check that one every few hours since it won’t be as conducive to hatching–but it’s still better than dropping on the sand. The picture gives you some idea of the scale we are talking about for shells that the megalopa (stage six larval hermits) will need. They are so small, they get stuck under my fingernail.

And now … back to “not obsessing.”

Ha. As if.

not obsessing

This is me, “not obsessing.”

August 24th: No spawning action yesterday. Artemis is now hanging out in the high calcium pit I have in the middle of the tank. (It’s just an upside down coconut hut hung from the corner guards that holds ground-up egg shells, powdered cuttlebone, dried crushed shrimp tails, and oyster shell grit.) It looks like she’s sleeping.

It got really cool here overnight, so I let the temp in the crabitat go down a bit—still above 80, but I do like to let it get a bit cooler at night in general, anyway. Also, last night as Miriam was walking on the wheel, I thought I saw eggs in her shell, too. So either I have two gravid females or I’m waaaay too obsessed/going crab-insane/seeing eggs everywhere. Please. Send. Help.

 

August 25th: It appears I now have three females all exhibiting spawning type behavior—hanging out of their shells, shifting uncomfortably, restlessness: Artemis, Miriam, Lola, and Blue. Blue keeps pacing back and forth between the salt and fresh water. I slept in the crab room last night. Len suggested it. He really “gets” me.  Weird crab behavior (and consequently weird human behavior) continued all night. I woke two or three times between midnight and six am and each time three of the females were congregating up high in one corner, alert and shifting their shells around, so I left them to it. The fourth female (who I only just confirmed had eggs last night) kept pacing back and forth between the two pools, climbing on the edges, but not going in.

Each time I woke, I checked the sand for eggs, checked the water for zoeae, nothing. Sometimes I left my red spot on, over the saltwater pool (like moonlight on the ocean, was my reasoning), but it didn’t seem to make a difference being on or off so I turned it off after three am.

This morning, Artemis is sitting oddly, alone, near the wheel, and at the same end of the tank as the saltwater pool. In the rear of the tank, Kermit is guarding Lola and the other crab in the wide polished turbo that I thought was Blue (a male) but has eggs, so it must be Nala, who I thought was still down in the old tank. Gah!! These crabs!!

I’ve also been witnessing some really strange behavior from the male who mated with most or all of the gravid females. (I can only confirm two of the females mated with Kermit, my alpha male, who I’m 99% certain used to be female two molts ago. I’m guessing, as the biggest crab in my colony she stepped into the role. It’s not that uncommon in fish and certain other invertebrates and I really have no other way to explain it. She’s always been the noticeably largest crab, so I didn’t get her confused with another.)

Anyway, the weird behavior was similar to guarding and others in here have talked about seeing guarding behavior in males right around the time of spawning, and they assumed it was about mating, but it doesn’t look like mating to me…it looks as if the male is trying to control when and/or where the female spawns.

Lola just came out of hiding (she’s one I can confirm mated with Kermit) and while edging toward the saltwater pool, she climbed up the edge of the tide pool (a smaller reptile rock with shallow saltwater) and fell in. She looked relieved and kind of sat there very still…then shooting out from nearby comes Kermit and he gets in the pool right away, too, and shoves Lola out, then follows behind her, pushing her away from the pool and back into the “woodsy” area where I have lots of large wood pieces and a chia garden and leaf litter. Essentially as far away from the saltwater “beach” as one can get in my tank.

Why would the male not want the female that he fertilized to spawn? She’s a very small female, probably not especially experienced at this process…could Kermit be monitoring for the best conditions? That seems so unlikely, but I’m having trouble coming up with another explanation. It was a really swift reaction, like, “What are you doing? Get out of that tide pool now!” And if Kermit used to be a female, who better to know when conditions would be right? Just sayin’.

Miriam and Artemis

Artemis (left) and Miriam (right) conferring in the wheel.

August 26th: Weird behavior continued all night. I woke two or three times between midnight and six am and each time three of the females were congregating up high in one corner, alert and shifting their shells around, so I left them to it. The fourth female (who I only just confirmed had eggs last night) kept pacing back and forth between the two pools, climbing on the edges, but not going in.

Each time I woke, I checked the sand for eggs, checked the water for zoeae, nothing. Sometimes I left my red spot on, over the saltwater pool (like moonlight on the ocean, was my reasoning), but it didn’t seem to make a difference being on or off so I turned it off after three am.

This morning, Artemis is sitting oddly, alone, near the wheel, and at the same end of the tank as the saltwater pool. In the rear of the tank, Kermit is guarding Lola and the other crab in the wide polished turbo that I thought was Blue (a male) but has eggs, so it must be Nala, who I thought was still down in the old tank. Gah!! These crabs!! No clue what the heck Kermit is doing, being all involved in the process and all. I can’t imagine that happens in the wild. I’ve always thought of them as opportunistic maters, but maybe there are instances of colony behavior in the wild–with a main male and a harem of females. Maybe I should iso Kermit to give the females a chance to do their thing without him hovering, but then I think that nature has a wisdom that I can’t know and I try to just observe like a scientist and not interfere.

But I so WANT to interfere!!!

As of six thirty this evening, there are four gravid females pacing around the tat, climbing, walking on the wheel, and going back and forth to the saltwater pool. One female without eggs is also up and around. The men appear to be sleeping in.

Each time one of the females moves toward the saltwater pool, the others appear to take note and either watch closely or move that way, too. There seems to be a definite interest in WHEN someone else may or may not take the plunge. The tide pool is getting use and interest, but only for drinking and washing. The water in the big pool felt a little cool to me, so I took out a couple of the bigger rocks, warmed them in treated freshwater and then put them back in the pool to raise the temp just a degree or two. And now, more waiting.

Officially feeling discouraged today. Two for sure still have eggs, and every time I go to check on them, someone is putting a toe in the saltwater, then shaking their head and backing away. I tested the temp, and it’s pretty chilly, compared to the 83 degrees in the kreisel. Maybe they know it’s too cold for the eggs to hatch?

So I put a tiny submersible heater in this morning. It’s the 50watt preset one and only goes up to 78, but perhaps that will be enough of a bump to persuade SOMEONE to drop their eggs. I also bumped the temp of the tat up two degrees and misted. We shall see.

Got a good look at Artemis’s eggs and they are much darker now. I really think it has to happen tonight. All three gravid females are super restless. I’m going to stay up as late as I can, in case someone drops on the sand and I can scoop them up, but I can’t do another all-nighter. Had a nasty migraine this morning. I’m way too obsessed over this. I’d hate to have gotten this far only to miss my chance by a few hours, but I’m not sure what else I can do. I think it’s harder for crabs in captivity. I mean, if you are compelled to spawn in the ocean, in the wild you only have to get close, then the next wave that washes in decides for you. In my little pool, they really have to want it.

August 27th: WE HAVE BABIES!! Thousands of them. I can’t believe they did it!! Yay, for my girls.

Babies day 1

Day One.

I finally gave up at midnight and went to bed thinking I had missed another chance. Then this morning, woo hoo! So this picture is officially DAY ONE. Yeah, baby.

So far I’ve only confirmed for sure who it wasn’t. It wasn’t Nala. She still has eggs. Miriam is up now, but slept hard all day and I haven’t seen Artemis at all. Think I glimpsed her shell way back in the corner where they have total privacy from my prying eyes, though. :shock:

So my best guess until I get a good look is that Miriam and Artemis are the ones who spawned. It’s roughly a scajillion zoea, just sayin. I now have five quart Mason jars with a bunch of zoeae swimming around. https://youtu.be/w36mR6JV7UI

Babies with eyes

You can see their eyes!

I took this video using a fisheye lens that clips onto my iPhone. I added some structure for them to hide among and eventually practice grabbing onto. Even in the open ocean, there are things like floating seaweed and these are great micro habitats for larvae and small fry. Just seemed to make sense to give them something other than the sides of a slick glass jar. They flick their tails a lot, moving quite similar to mosquito larvae. They do seem to rest on the plants, though, just sort of settling there for a bit before flick-swimming off again. Probably not a necessary part of the setup.

August 28th: Here’s a video link for Day Two. https://youtu.be/J8BTawBKY0I

I’m actually seeing lots of shed exos in the water today. Must be at stage two already. You can see a few in the video that are noticeably larger.

Those shed exos were super alarming. At first I thought they were masses of dead zoea. And there are plenty of dead ones, but the exos float aimlessly and they have no eyes. The dead ones all have eyes still. Their tails are much more noticeable in this stage, too–more fanned out at the end. I think it’s an added lobe. It’s cool because it’s changed how they

Orange tummies

Orange tummies!

swim. It’s a lot more purposeful. The first stage was more of a spastic jerk like mosquito larvae swim. They curl their tails more now and are a little more shrimplike. I’m also seeing some orange tints to their tummies, so I’m pretty confident they’re eating the free swimming brine shrimp I hatched in there. Also crumbled up one of the shrimp pellets (100% fish pellets for feeding saltwater shrimp) and they grabbed the tiny crumbs as they were dropping!

Also, this first molt is coming sooner than I expected. I think it’s a good thing. The faster they get through the stages, the sooner they get to land. I think it’s because I have the water heater set at 83 degrees and other attempts with Purple Pinchers that were slower to reach stage two registered tank temps at either at 78 or room temp.

I checked for water temps in the Caribbean in August and it said 83, so that’s what I set mine at. Also finding that the zoeae are much hardier than I thought they would be. A couple times the water got cloudy before I could change it (much faster in the jars with more zoeae, which makes sense) and twice, it was so cloudy I couldn’t get it clean and ended up taking the whole jar out and cleaning it, adding fresh saltwater, and putting the zoeae back in, expecting a high loss rate since it was a 100% water change, but I didn’t see that happen.

Absolutely, no question, the hardest part isn’t all the monitoring or the water changes or the not knowing. The hardest thing is not being able to save them all. Every water change causes casualties because it’s impossible to siphon up detritus without also siphoning up zoeae. And you can’t really pick them out of the wastewater. I try, but there are too many, and they’re intermingled with the dead ones and the molts.

They’re attracted to light, so I shine a high-intensity flashlight on one side of the container and some head over there. I then use a medicine dropper to save what I can, but it’s so labor intensive for five different jars, and there are still hundreds in each jar. But they want to live, it’s clear, and they are staying alive even when I set the water aside and wait. It just kills me to wash them down the sink. I know logically that’s ridiculous. One fish in the wild could come along and snarf up a thousand with one gulp, but I keep thinking that one could be the one to survive! Or that one! Or that one!

Meanwhile hundreds still in the jars are surviving well and waiting for me to come back and feed them or change their water. I keep reciting the Star Trek mantra, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” But it is so hard!!

August 29th: Day Three Lesson: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This morning one entire jar of zoeae was dead. It was the most successful jar, the one I was taking the pictures of because the water was staying clear and the zoeae were progressing rapidly. And for some stupid reason I thought I should turn down the bubbler overnight. Not off, but way reduced, thinking it would help them get to the bottom for the food. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

On the plus siLittle soldiersde, it is a good thing that I have them divided between five jars for just this reason. If I do something stupid, I can at least move some over from another jar and start over. The jar that died also only had perhaps 50-80 babies (probably why it was doing so well, too, less competition for resources) so it isn’t a catastrophic loss.

Except for those zoeae that died….sorry babies.

Really wish I could get better pictures. They are just SO tiny and they move so fast. Really hard to focus on an individual.

The full water-change process takes about an hour. But I’m starting to hit a groove. No zoeae lost in this last change. Day three

My new method: If most of the cloudiness is in the water column, I turn off the light and bubbler and the zoeae sink. Then I can siphon from the top third and get floating stuff. If most of the gunk is on the bottom (exoskeleton and/or food), then I leave the lights and bubbler on and start straight from the bottom and target the piles. I do usually get some zoeae with that method, but then I set the container with the wastewater down and shine a high-powered flashlight at one end and they gather there. Then I suck them up with a medicine dropper and squirt them back into the jar they came from. It’s working really well.

It’s pretty clear that their eyes are quite well developed already because they avoid the dropper and they are grabbing brine shrimp eggs out of the water column. That really surprised me. I thought they would only eat the hatched shrimp, but they grab the eggs with their front legs and curl their tails around the egg as if to say, “Mine!” It’s adorable.

Anyway, despite the loss of this morning, today is a good day in crabby land. Feeling confident (for now).  Ask me again in ten minutes.

August 30th: Day Four. Everything looks really good this morning. Only one jar needed a 7am 30% water change (one that has a lot of zoeae). The others look clean and the zoeae are lively. I gave them a sprinkle of brine shrimp eggs, but they seem really hungry so I think I’ll add one ground up shrimp pellet, too. The pellet I put in at bedtime last night appears to have been consumed. I’ll watch the jars, but I’m thinking I can wait until 11 am to do a partial change in the other jars. So yesterday’s schedule will be my model for today unless something changes that requires me to adjust. Still feeling optimistic.

Here’s a link to a video that shows them eating at the bottom of one jar. The jar looks filthy, but it’s just because the macro lens gets in so close that even the tiniest particles look like giant dust bunnies. https://youtu.be/Jb_Qikc6z18

As of today¹ I’m starting to establish a workable schedule.² I added some phytoplankton at 3pm and squirted the brine shrimp eggs back down using the medicine dropper (they tend to cling in a ring at the surface). It’s super cloudy in the jars right now, but ammonia levels are fine so I’m going to do a 50% water change at 6pm and then toss in some of the National Geographic³ shrimp pellets (100% fish for feeding aquarium shrimp) ground up fine. Those bits sink and don’t cloud the water as much. That way, when I turn off the light at 7, and the teeny zoeae(4) sink down, too, the pellet crumbs will be a better overnight food source than the artemia and phytoplankton which really cloud the water since they stay suspended in the water column. Those will be my daytime foods. And I add the brine shrimp first thing in the morning, giving them more hours to hatch, and added the phytoplankton at 3pm since it’s so messy in the water and will only have three hours to cloud things up before the 6pm water change.(5)

¹Actually, five minutes ago
²Details subject to change without prior notice
³This does not constitute an official HCA endorsement of Nat Geo shrimp pellets
(4)Objects in fuzzy photographs are smaller than they appear
(5)Some phytoplankton may have settled during siphoning and handling

Artemis popcornPoor Artemis has been so exhausted from all her babymaking I’ve hardly seen her. Today she was hanging out up high on the mopani wood so I handed her a piece of popcorn as thanks for all her hard work. She took a few bites then hugged it close, turned away, and went to sleep. Teddy bear popcorn.

I finished the final water change for the day at 6:30, and I’m starting to get a system down. Each jar has a number and I keep track of which I do as I do it, and if I do anything different in one that I want to remember. One thing I’m a little concerned about is salinity. I don’t have a way to measure it, currently, and though I’m not worried about the IO I’m using, I am worried about increased salinity over time from the warmer water temps (evaporation) and the spray from the air stones which is already creating considerable salt buildup on the air tubing and a lid I just added today because I realized the spray was hitting the heat lamp bulb (can you say YIKES??). A burst bulb directly over the open jars of zoeae? Whew, nightmare averted.

Meanwhile, I have another female pacing around the saltwater pool, ready to drop eggs.

August 31st: Day Five begins. Most still at stage Two, although I am seeing some sheds in the water. And they are ravenous. One little guy’s tummy is green from pigging out on chlorella.

If I get any substantial number of babies to land, I really want to share them with experienced crabbers with good setups who will agree to document their growth over time. The more I can disperse them to good homes of owners who will agree to do a monthly or quarterly check-in, the better. I would hope to track growth and behavior over time in different setups. I think it will be fascinating to get to that point. My motivation in all of this is to help the crabs, build a better scientific knowledge base within the crabbing community, and help improve ethics of the hermit crab pet trade. My (personal) goal would be for them to be seen as the long-lived “wildlife” that they are rather than starter/throwaway pets and the more we can demonstrate how “exotic” and complicated they are, the better off hermit crabs will be as a species on this planet.

Chlorella belly

Chlorella belly.

I alternate between feeling like it’s going to work and that they’re all dying right this very minute. Such a roller coaster. It’s actually really good (for my mental health) that I’ve decided to give them a dark cycle from 7pm to 7am. They sink down with the light off and forage on the bottom. I didn’t have to do a first morning water change today because the food had all been cleaned up. They were ravenous, though, so I added phytoplankton and chlorella and the ground up shrimp pellets and the jars were pretty cloudy by the 11am water change so I did 50%, then fed them more and then changed it between 50% and 100% (for the messiest one) again at 6pm. Hoping things keep going well, but I know I’m entering the “high-loss” phase, so just trying to keep my head down and not get over-invested in an outcome. But it’s hard to be detached. They are so adorable!

 

September 1st: Day Six is finally over. Whew. Exhaustion is setting in, but all the babies are good. Virtually no losses today, although I am prepared for them any day now as I know it hits everyone at some point along the way.

Here’s a video I took right before putting them to bed: https://youtu.be/9XTNY3bu2GQ

I figured out late last night that I haven’t been seeing any brine shrimp because they haven’t been hatching! They are a year old and I didn’t store the vial in the freezer. Doh! They’ve been eating the eggs, but unhatched eggs have limited nutrition and can clog the digestive tract, so I was at the pet store this morning when the doors opened, then rushed home to do a feeding and water change, then hosted my writing group for a luncheon and meeting, then did more water changes, mixed more saltwater, changed out my main crab tank waters, made dinner for us, then did major water changes and finally put the zoeae to bed at about 8pm.

My new strategy seems to be working pretty well. I clean their jars really well at 7pm then let them “sleep” all night until 7am and give them sinking shrimp pellets ground up fine. They appear to eat those overnight because without the light the zoeae sink to the bottom where the food is.

Then in the morning I load them up with floating food: Chlorella, spirulina, brine shrimp eggs, and today frozen brine shrimp. It really makes a mess in the jars, but no worse than plenty of turbid, cloudy ocean water I’ve been in while diving, so I’m trying not to worry about the appearance if the ammonia levels are fine, which they have been. Basically I do partial water changes during the day as I think they are warranted then the evening water change is really drastic, often 100%, but the zoeae are really tolerant of the drastic changes, so I’m just following their lead.

Anyway, a lot of what I’m trying is based on what I know about the ocean, how nutrients travel through the water column in day and night cycles, and so far so good. In 1998 I co-founded a marine ecology study abroad program in the Caribbean (Dominica) and in the early 90s I lived and worked at a marine ecology school in the Turks and Caicos Islands which had tons of hermit crabs and I observed them on a day-to-day basis in their natural habitat, in addition to diving in Caribbean waters and studying ocean ecosystems. I like to think that because I have a base of somewhat-relevant knowledge, I can help advance the process of captive breeding for the good of hermit crabs all over the world.

I’ve also been thinking about how to make this a process that anyone can do. Whatever process anyone who tries this chooses to use, it should be agreeable with their temperament in order to help ensure a maximum rate of success. For example, I’m not a strict measurer, not the “pristine lab” type of scientist at all. Nothing wrong with going the lab route, mind you—I admire people who work that way—especially if that is how you are naturally inclined. But I’m more of a naturalist. An amateur citizen-scientist, a generalist who studies the logic of systems and the methods of nature and tries to mimic that for the critters in my care. (I also cook without measuring, write novels without an outline, and see where the clay takes me when I’m throwing pottery…much to the horror of my analytical husband!) Basically I feel my way forward much of the time.

In Germany, hermit crab breeders have had wonderful lab-type success with strict guidelines to follow and very stable, specific conditions, population numbers, etc. But ideally, we’ll get success that also includes a more intuitive element, and then combining different aspects of the two approaches can help get us to a “blueprint” that can work for anyone.

September 2nd: Day Seven. As soon as I turned on the lights and loaded them up with messy food, they absolutely started to shed. So this is stage four. And this is (I believe) the stage when their shell legs (the little tiny curled legs that hold them in their shells) develop at the end of their tails. They are having a lot more trouble getting the exoskeleton off this time, because of it. Nothing that’s harming them, but they are having to wriggle and contort their bodies a lot more. No more just swimming out of it. And so years of molting struggle begins. Sorry little babies. It’s a tough world out there.

By the way, this seems to be happening super fast to me, and other successful breeders (of different species) have counseled that it’s not good for them to rush through the stages too quickly, but I’m just trying to supply the conditions they would find in the Caribbean in the summer in terms of water temps and nutrient levels and then let the crabs decide. Time will tell if it’s the right approach or not. But for the record, I ain’t rushing nobody.

September 3rd: Day Eight. All is still good. I’m continuing the pattern of loading them up with food first thing in the morning after turning on the lights, letting it get plenty murky during the day, but sending them to bed squeaky clean after a 100% water change. I try to be done with everything by 7pm, but it’s usually closer to 8 by the time I get done with everything. Those 100% water changes are super labor intensive. There are so many moving parts, any one of which if it got overlooked could be catastrophic. I can literally feel myself getting overtired and losing focus. I have to will myself to pay attention to the details and not forget to use Prime before adding the salt, make sure the saltwater is the right temperature, squirt the siphoned up babies back into the correct jar, keep track of which jars have gotten which food, etc. It’s a real lesson in maintaining methodical focus: do this step, and then this step, and then this one…

I am still only seeing negligible losses—the occasional opaque, aimlessly floating carcass. Hundreds are still alive in each of the five jars. I’m sure the population crash is coming, I just haven’t seen it yet. And if they do start to eat one another, it will be okay because there are so many to start with. Who knows, a sibling-snack may be the perfect nutritional load to get the most number of fit individuals to the next level.

I have fresh brine shrimp eggs arriving today (thank you, Amazon Prime) and I’m starting to think I may need a bigger pool in the transition tank. I designed it thinking I would only get a handful of megalopa. And of course, that may still be the case, but if not I want to be prepared. It would be a nightmare scenario to have put in all this time and effort, end up with a great success rate at the larval stage, and then have to let a good number of megalopa die because I didn’t have enough tiny shells or didn’t have a big enough saltwater pool in the transition tank.

Turns out I’m a super attentive caregiver … forrrr about a week. Then some switch flips and I get itchy and cranky and distracted and go a little bonkers if I don’t get out and see the world. I have no idea how full-time caregivers do it. They get massive props from me. I remember when my kids got chicken pox in succession for a total of four weeks of isolation, unhappy kids and cabin fever. I nearly lost it.

This experience feels a lot like having a short term newborn. Are they eating? Are they pooping? What do they need? What do they want? And of course the baby (babies) can’t tell you what it (they) needs. It’s a lot of semi-helpless guesswork. Oh, and we have plans to go out to dinner tonight with friends, and all I can think of is when to feed the zoea and how I can ever leave them alone for four (whole) hours.

September 4th: Day Nine. Everything looks good this morning. They survived me going out to dinner.  😀

I did have one very scary episode right before leaving. I was trying to get a 50% water change done quickly before we left, and it’s been super cold here for late August/early September (43 degrees at night–a new record) and we refuse to turn the heat on in what is officially still summer … so the saltwater I mixed has been really cool at room temperature. I didn’t have time to let it warm in the 83-degree bath, so I warmed some in the microwave, let it rest, and then mixed with the water for the jars but just gauged the temp by feel, and I think it was a tad warm. I saw no movement in that one jar after adding the warmer water. I was certain I had killed them all. So frustrated and mad at myself. I almost dumped the whole jar before leaving, but didn’t really have time and decided I would do it after I got back.

Well, good thing I did wait because when I went to do the 100% before-bed water change, there were still a bunch alive in that jar! Whew! There were a good number of dead, so clearly I had overheated the water, but probably at least fifty hardy souls survived, so that made me feel slightly less horrible.

This morning I saw a few brine shrimp swimming around in one of the jars. I added a lot of eggs last night, so I though I would see more this morning, but then I looked close at the zoeae bellies and they were crammed, bulging with pink, so I think it’s safe to say they are eating the artemia. THAT is a load off my mind and will hopefully make the feeding process easier for me and more healthful for the babies.

Orange bellies day ninePretty uneventful day in the crab nursery. Got a little warm in there (86 degrees Fahrenheit) which worried me, but I opened a window in the room and the temps went down a few degrees. I loaded them up with food at seven am (maybe too much, because I ended up doing a double water change for two of the murkiest ones when the ammonia read as in the “stress” zone. But I could definitely see the brine shrimp swimming and the larvae were eating them up as fast as they could. Their bellies were stuffed with orange shrimp. Some of the zoeae has turned bright orange, too.

I did a rough population count tonight when I did the squeaky-clean overnight 100% change. It’s a very rough estimate and sometimes I lost my place or just got distracted in the count. It is SO hard to count wriggling, tiny, semi-transparent zoeae that number in the hundreds and are intermingled with brine shrimp egg casings, sand, and other general detritus of food and waste.

So the data is absolutely APPROXIMATE and extremely RAW and I haven’t had a chance to think about what it all means. It’s a starting point, only. Turns out the numbers of zoeae in the jars are wildly divergent, but I didn’t even try to portion them when I separated them into jars. I mean, I did, but only by turkey-basterful, and that’s not an exact science, obviously. So I don’t even know at this point if the jars with more individuals are “more successful” or if they just had more to start with. I’ll wait until tomorrow night’s big change and do another count then and reassess the data to see what I think I want to do. I’ve also included some basic extra info about each jar.

Jar #1: ~430 zoeae at stage four. This jar is right beneath the bright, warm daytime heat lamp.
Jar #2: ~500 zoeae at stage four. This jar is closest to the heater.
Jar #3: ~ 180 stage four zoeae. This jar has low light, is near the heater, and is the one I overheated last night and initially thought I had killed them all.
Jar #4: ~150 stage four zoeae. This one is the farthest from any light source and farther from the heater.
Jar #5: ~350 stage four zoeae. This one has a low, 75 watt light on one side and is the farthest from the heater, but the light adds some heat.

So this is a total of roughly 1,610 currently live zoeae. I estimate that I saw about 80 dead, 50 or more of them in the jar that I accidentally overheated last night.

And now to try and relax for the next ten hours and forget all about these bajillion little living creatures in my care.

September 5th: Day Ten. I’m now officially starting to get scared because it seems to be going so well. There has to be some bad thing around the corner, right? Brrr. I’m too superstitious, I guess.

Approximate population count for Day Ten:

Jar #1: ~410 zoeae, many at stage five. Maybe 20 dead.
Jar #2: ~500, maybe 5 dead (other bodies may have been eaten)
Jar #3: ~230 (must have under-counted yesterday), 8 dead.
Jar #4: ~125, no obvious bodies
Jar #5: ~325, maybe 20 dead?

So that is still 1,590 zoeae, give-or-take. Their bellies are obviously full and dark, their exoskeletons are getting nice and pink, and they swim really well and purposefully. I’ll try to get some good pictures of stage 5 tomorrow. I’m just exhausted today, and feeling oddly emotional.

I had lunch with an older friend today (he’s 83) and he was asking all about the babies so I was explaining why I’m doing this, how all hermit crabs are taken from the wild and many die after six months when they could live 40 years or more, how they are born in the ocean, go through six stages, and explaining my setup to him. He was very interested but a woman at the booth facing ours kept shaking her head and acting annoyed. Then she caught my eye and said, “Ugh. That is so disgusting.” She was listening in, and mad because I was talking about the hermit crabs and (I guess?) spoiling her appetite. And I wasn’t even talking about all the gross things they eat like moose poop and raw meat, but after her comment, I wished I had been. It made me strangely sad the rest of the afternoon, as it seemed to highlight the prevailing attitude and what these poor misunderstood creatures are up against.

Keep your fingers crossed for this venture. A lot of hearts and minds need changing.

September 6th: Day Eleven. Today is Day Eleven and they were super hungry this morning even though I put them to bed with brine shrimp and some of the ground-up pellets. The water was completely clear, so they had eaten everything! This is the first time I’ve had them eating overnight, too. I will need to give them a bigger nutritional load later in the day from here on out. They are also eating from the floor of the jar more, probably in preparation for the Glaucothae stage which is mostly spent on the sand. It’s a constantly evolving feeding schedule.

Later, same day: Ugh. Absolutely riddled with doubts this afternoon. Why did I ever think I could do this??? I feel like I’m going to suddenly trip at the finish line of this crazy marathon. Blech.

And yet still I went to Home Depot for a bigger transition pool and materials to insulate the transition tank because who knows? I still might get there.

One foot in front of the other is all I’ve got today. I wish my crabs could hug.

Even later, same day: It turns out that even if you say, “I’m expecting big losses any day now” for ten days in a row, it doesn’t make it true.

All day long I had a bad feeling about a couple of the jars. I just didn’t see much movement in them, but that has happened before so I kept to the schedule of changes and assumed they were congregating behind the bubbler or something similar…even as I felt a restless dread all day.

And tonight’s count was a sad one.

Jar #1: About 200 alive, about as many dead
Jar #2: About 250 alive, about as many dead
Jar #3: About 30 alive, a couple hundred dead
Jar #4: About 12 alive, a hundred or more dead
Jar #5: About 30 alive, three hundred or so dead

That leaves about 500 alive, which is the number I’m trying to focus on. 500 is great. It’s just that it’s one-third of what I had twelve hours ago, so it’s shocking … and worrying, and not sustainable if the same thing happens for multiple days. :crybaby:

I distributed the survivors more evenly throughout the jars since I don’t think it was the external conditions of the jars but rather that they had seemed so hungry this morning and I overdid it trying to make up for starving them. I believe I added too much food, either in terms of creating increased ammonia or decreased oxygen levels. In Jar #5, where the losses were the greatest, there were no obvious bodies by 7pm, but lots of detritus so I think the deaths happened early in the day and had time to decompose in the moving water—thereby continuing to increase ammonia levels for the initial survivors and creating worse conditions as the day went on.

I’ll keep thinking about this and maybe draw different conclusions as I turn the day’s details over in my mind. Something else might occur to me, but that’s my initial assessment.

Keep your fingers crossed for the others, please.

September 7th: Day Twelve. Looks like everyone left is still alive this morning. Resisting the urge to feed more than I think they will eat…

I’ve been thinking a lot since last night’s carnage and I have a few theories. These are some of the things I think could have gone wrong yesterday in order of what I think is the likeliest (#1 being most likely).

#1. I overfed them and/or gave them the wrong food.
They were clearly so hungry first thing in the morning. They appeared to be attacking one another and I knew a bunch had just transitioned to stage five, so I thought they needed more food. They seemed to be spending more time at the bottom, too, so I gave them extra sinking food (frozen brine shrimp and the shrimp pellets). In short, I threw everything at them and worried more about giving them enough food than I did about the ammonia levels that would create.

#2. They are older, eating more, and creating more waste so I should have changed the water more.
This one is closely related to #1, but makes sense as a change (because I had been throwing lots of food at them mornings for a while and this day was somehow different). They now have clear gut tracks so they must be pooping in quantities equal to the crazy amounts they are eating. Plus there are tons of brine shrimp hatching now, also creating waste and using up resources like oxygen and food.

#3. Lots of what I was seeing was sheds, either stage five or six.
Many had entered stage five, but probably not all, and sheds create lots of waste. I stayed on top of it the day before, but didn’t keep in mind that it might take the whole lot of them two days. I should have done some extra water changes. It’s also possible that many of the deaths may have been stage six sheds. That’s coming fast, but it would help to explain why I wasn’t seeing as many clear bodies. Stage six is when the front legs really make a big appearance, including the claws. There have been a ton of sheds today, too, and many of them look strange—like a a normal tail with a huge front half that includes the shed swirling around the body. So it’s possible they have been trying to enter stage six but that molt is a really tricky one with all of the major changes involved. They might be getting “trapped” in their own exoskeletons and drowning.

#4. They are getting a lot cagier.
I realized this morning when I caught just a few in the 50% water change that it’s no longer easy to catch them with the medicine dropper as they swim away and hide beneath things like carcasses of others and then stay very still. They are becoming more like adult crabs in this way. They seem skittish and avoid the light I have been using to find them in the detritus. They even cling to the larger dead brine shrimp carcasses making themselves virtually invisible. (This is a great strategy in the wild when things are trying to eat you—and a terrible strategy in captivity when someone is trying to save you.) I am now hoping I didn’t accidentally throw out a bunch of live zoeae last night when I thought they were all dead because there was no movement.

#5. The weather has been unseasonably cold.
This has made it a lot harder to regulate the water when I am using a gallon at a time. The house has been cooler and I can only regulate a quart of water at a time in the water bath. I’ve tried storing a gallon in the old crab tank which is still being heated because I have a molter still down in there but no crabs topside, but that’s minimally effective. I’ve been warming small amounts and mixing it into the colder water before adding it to the jars and I’ve been mixing the water closer to change time and trying to get the temperature right at the mixing stage and then just using it right away. No matter how I’ve try to compensate for 70-degree room temperature, every strategy seems less than ideal.

#6. I’ve had to change up their “routine.”
I’ve had several morning meetings and appointments this week and had to be gone for three hours or so each time. This meant I had to make changes to their scheduled water swaps and either do them earlier or later. I’ve tried my best to make it work, but those changes may have been a factor in their mortality.

#7. They are larger now and perhaps more sensitive.
More sensitive to things like the medicine dropper I am using to suck them up, traveling through the siphon, getting poured into a bowl for the 100% water changes, fluctuating ammonia levels and water temperatures, etc.

#8. My local water authority just did its seasonal chlorine boost.
I could smell it in the water day before yesterday. I use Prime to neutralize that stuff, but it was noticeable to my nose so it may have been an issue. There wasn’t much I could have done about this, short of going out and buying bottled water and I doubted my nose just enough to convince myself it wouldn’t be an issue. And truthfully, I don’t think it was a factor (why it’s so low on the list), but it occurred to me so I’m mentioning it.

#9. Excess salinity in the water.
I haven’t been adding occasional drops of freshwater during the day and I was doing this in the beginning. There is a lot of splash and evaporation, so it may have gotten too high, but again, I think this is less likely because some of the “splashiest” jars still had high numbers surviving.

So there you have it: CSI, Crab City.

Friday September 8th: DAY (lucky) THIRTEEN.

No appreciable losses today, just a few floating carcasses here and there. I didn’t do a 100% water change last night and I’m not doing one tonight, but I did make small 30% – 50% changes a bunch of times because I’m trying to feed them enough but keep the water clean. It’s a tricky balance. I’m going through about a gallon and a half of saltwater each day. Tonight I siphoned up the bottom thoroughly and in the process picked up a lot of babies. I had to put back over a hundred in each of the most “productive” jars, so there are probably more than 300 total still going strong.

The jar that I “retired” for zoeae I’m now using to hatch brine shrimp which helps a lot in terms of keeping the water in the baby jars clear. I also placed another jar in the aquarium for warming plain saltwater. That’s been a great thing–means I have two quarts at temperature at a time, so if I’m doing a 50% change in four jars, I have just enough at the perfect temperature. I just have to remember to keep them filled.
Welcome Baby
I alternate between feeling like I’ve got this and having major panic episodes. Like tonight, after the water change, I shined the light in and just saw a lot of flopping around and thought, “Dear God, I’ve killed them all.” I had to step away, make myself a tall gin and tonic, and when I came back just to double check that every jar was bubbling the appropriate amount, I shined the light in and there were swimmers everywhere. I am clearly just getting the jitters because we are so close to stage six and losing them all now would feel just awful. (pleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease let some live!)

No picture or video of zoeae today. It was all I could do to get the changes and feedings done. But I received a package of tiny shells today from a virtual friend with a “Welcome Baby” card inside. So funny. And of course, only about 30 of them are even close to small enough. However small you think they have to be? Imagine them half-again as small and you’re getting close to small enough. I thought I knew what a tiny shell was until I looked at their adorable skinny little nothing bodies that have to carry it around.

September 9th: Day Fourteen. Here’s a video from just a few minutes ago. The darker orange one appears to be midway between stage five and six. I can see legs emerging toward the tail area and that big bulk at the front will be the claws if he/she is successful. https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=you … Y5kjGdS-zg

Shells with 1-2 mm openings is what I’ve been hunting. Not that easy to find. Even when they are that small, if they are proportionally heavy, the zoeae might never be able to haul them out of the water, so light and miniscule is what I’m going for. Two days ago I ordered some reef sand and substrate from Drs. Foster and Smith. Should be here soon with some micro shells. I honestly have tons of options at this point, but I’m still fretting because that first trip to land+ sand molt is going to be soooo critical.

And because I’m having trouble finding enough stuff to worry about. NOT.

Just put the babies all to bed. No major losses today, thankfully. I still haven’t seen any that are all the way through stage six change, which seems odd, but maybe in the morning I’ll be happily surprised. I did a 100% water change tonight even though it felt a little intrusive with them being larger, but two days of only siphoning had left the sand a little icky and the sides of the jars slimy. I’m hoping to be able to transition to all sinking food soon. I did way too many water changes today, partly because of all the sheds and partly because I worry too much. We’re two weeks in, though. Woo-hoo!! And I’d say there are around eighty or more in each of the three main jars.

September 10th: Day Fifteen. This morning was the first time I found myself feeling resistant to the process. I needed to mix more saltwater (two gallons, since I used a lot yesterday and also had to swap out the adult hermies pool) and I just stared at the empty jugs thinking, “I can’t mix another gallon.”

I’ve gone through 25 gallons in the past fifteen days and for some reason, that number just suddenly felt like too much. But I did it, of course, because it had to be done, and it really doesn’t take that long to mix a batch of saltwater. I think it’s just a symptom of me being fatigued by the process at this point. Like that old commercial from … the 80s? the 90s? … with the guy trudging off to work in the wee hours of the morning groaning, “Time to make the donuts.”

[Groan.] Time to mix the saltwater.

Also, I’m not seeing any full-on transitions to stage six. Many have molted (yesterday was all-sheds-all-the-time), but I’m not seeing the full “Superman” swimmers. I’m not sure if it’s an issue or not. They are using the little vestigial legs to hold onto things, so maybe it’s simply a question of needing a bit more time to unfold/develop…sort of like a butterfly fresh out of the cocoon that has to dry and flex its wings and unfurl (but obviously not happening as quickly). It’s also entirely possible that I miscounted the stages or “overlap counted” them when the stages came fast and in reality I was simply seeing a second batch transitioning (to the same stage) and not a whole new stage occurring. To the naked eye, those first stages are pretty indistinguishable, so I was just going by sheds in the water. Also, I think this batch of zoeae is from three different female crabs (all the same male) and if so they would be genetically different and might develop slower or faster because of that. Also, the females all spawned on the same night, but their eggs had slightly different incubation periods because the mating behavior I saw was sequential—one female per day. So many variables!

The babies are all starting to congregate at the bottom now, which seems like a good sign for a creature that needs to transition to land eventually. I also would greatly prefer to feed them sinking food that doesn’t foul the water as quickly. I have about half of the shells that I think will be small enough in there now. They have definitely taken note of the shells but not in any serious way. I just want them to be aware that the shells are there—that the resource they will need soon is available.

I’ve said this before, but they seem to be developing some of the traits of adult land hermit crabs. They are hiding more, for sure. In fact, the “seaweed” that I put in the jars has become very popular. They congregate beneath it in what acts as “shade” and perhaps it’s out of the “current” as well. I have to swish the seaweed when I clean the water because some will actually cling to it. I had freestanding plants in some of the jars, but had heavy losses in those jars, and so have made the switch to all floating “seaweed.” It’s a familiar one for freshwater aquariums. I just took it apart into four strands, one for each jar.

Still no sign of many dead. Either I’m not having major losses or the live ones are completely consuming the dead ones. Either way, I would say I have at least 80 in each of the three most productive jars as of this morning. Still hopeful—and still trying to obsess less.

September 11th: Day Sixteen. Still no visual on a stage six Superman swimmer. I clearly miscounted the stages … or more likely, I think now, the eggs were from different females and grew at different stages of development. So, for example, all those stage two sheds I saw on day two were only half the zoeae transitioning, then the next stage (or what I assumed was the next stage) that came so quickly on the heels of the last molt, were really just another batch of stage two molts from eggs that weren’t quite as advanced on spawning and so had to catch up with the others. The mass molts were so obvious, that’s the only scenario that makes sense … today … to me now … until I think of something else that I’m SURE is the really-real conclusion du jour. In other words, I got nuthin’.

And I can’t tell if I’m being too obsessive or not, but I’m starting to worry. It looks like they are hungry but have stopped eating certain things that worked before. The freshly hatched brine shrimp don’t seem to interest them now, unfortunately, and the zoeae seem paler today to me. I’ve added thawed brine shrimp, and they appear to nibble on that, but I can’t seem to figure out what will really make them happy and fill their bellies.

Later, same day: They ate some defrosted brine shrimp but I had to do three water changes. Messy stuff, but they got their color back as you can see: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KuFIvmU1pHc

September 12th: Day Seventeen. Woke this morning to a semi-horrifying thought: if I miscounted the molts because half the babies were behind the others, it doesn’t mean I’m one molt behind in my count, it means they’ve molted HALF as many times as I thought. If that’s the case, they are only at Stage Three! Sheesh. I’m not sure I have it in me to keep this schedule up for 40 or more additional days.

Later, same day: Okay. New strategy. I have three mason jars of zoeae left and a big round goldfish bowl that holds the exact volume of three quart jars with a smaller footprint to clean. I’ve just finished preparing it and filling it with saltwater to warm in the freshwater bath alongside the existing jars. At noon, I’ll move one jar of zoeae over and see how they do in there, then move the others over gradually if everything looks good.

That will give me just one container to monitor, which will be a huge relief, but it will also give me a 100% loss rate if I do something stupid. I’ll just have to be extra careful and mindful during all the steps and hope for the best.

Guess what zoeae? It’s time for the merge! (I’m a huge Survivor fan, please don’t judge … I just watch it for the obligatory camera shots of hermit crabs walking on the beach. No, really.) Cross your fingers this works!!

goldfish bowlWell, I did it, terrified the WHOLE time. But they are alive!! And this will make the process so much easier for me. One container to change, the equivalent of one quart jar for a 30% change, a smaller bottom to clean, and much fewer numbers getting sucked up and having to be droppered back in. I know they are getting bigger, too, because they are getting stuck at the opening of the medicine dropper. Less evaporation, more stable salinity and temp. I’m feeling good about this now. Whew. I was panicking there for a couple hours.

Oh, and I counted. I put in 185 live zoeae.

 

September 13th: Day Eighteen. Not the greatest video, but the best documentation I was able to get. Still none at stage six. https://youtu.be/1NkE9SIpicA

Started the day optimistic, eagerly awaiting a marine substrate delivery, but also had to work away from home for four hours, so did my water change, 30%, fed them, observed a bunch of sheds in the water which always means lots of water changes needed, but I was already late, so I left.

Stopped on the way home for more Instant Ocean (have gone through about 28 gallons since the start of this) and bought a few more food options to try. Something for fish fry called (i think) First Hatch, and two types of beta grains. Everything has something bad for them (copper, ethoxyquin, garlic, etc), but I’m trying to give them options and vary their diet / vary the bad things they are exposed to. The First Hatch looked promising, but I don’t think they ate it and it made a mess of the water. I only tried one of the beta grains (with garlic in the ingredients) and dropped it right into a group of zoeae … the water promptly cleared around it within a half-inch radius that kept expanding, so I removed it and that one’s a no-go. Ugh. So hard to feed them!

The water was pretty cloudy when I got home, so I did a quick 30% change, and tried the various foods. Very cloudy again quickly so I did another change. And now I’ve walked away to stream some mindless TV (I’m binging old episodes of LOST for my sanity breaks). I have to do this occasionally or I will absolutely lose my mind. I’m having a very hard time keeping on an even emotional keel while doing this. With no “chart” to follow, everything is a guess, and every guess is generally followed by me second-guessing my first guess and agonizing over that. It’s really so much more emotionally taxing than I ever imagined. Huge props to all the trail blazers who have attempted this before.

September 14th: Day Nineteen. I feel like I’m hitting the doldrums (that spot in the ocean where there’s no wind to give you sail). Not sure what I’m doing wrong, what I’m not giving them, what they are missing, or if I even have it in me to continue trying without losing my mind. I’m really stressing out stupidly these past few days. I can’t seem to relax knowing that something isn’t quite right.

They are losing their orange coloration and I don’t know if they’ve stopped eating something important, if I can substitute with something else, if it even matters. (I feel like it has to matter that they are paler.) But most of the dead ones I’m seeing ARE bright orange, so is THAT what’s killing them? Gah. I just don’t know, and being comfortable with not knowing isn’t my strong suit.

Also I think I’m seeing a lot more deaths since I moved them to the big round container and I don’t know if that’s something about air flow, or debris (it collects on the sloping sides instead of only on the bottom now), or my water changes, or just the particular developmental stage they are in. I don’t know if I should adjust something in the goldfish bowl or put the remaining survivors back in the mason jars … I keep trying different things but then I think THAT has to be stressful for the zoeae…

It’s also been much warmer here and I’ve had to readjust the heater downward and stop using the lights that were adding warmth. I have a cool “rainforest” bulb above them now but am also trying to figure out how to move my adult crabs’ UVB light over there in a way that will be stable.

I had a substantial meltdown over all this last night and a smaller one today, too. It’s really so easy to say at the start of this that, “I’ll just give it a go and see what happens,” but when you’re nineteen days in and all of your hard work and hopes suddenly start to go south and the adorable little critters in your care are dying, well, it’s not that easy to just say, “Whatever happens will be okay.”

5 gallon tank

The New Five-Gallon Palace.

September 17th: Day Twenty-two. Catastrophic losses on Friday. My fault. Just panicked and tried too many things, hoping to “fix” what was already working. My attempts included a rather major and unorthodox change based on advice from an experienced aquarist who suggested I give the goldfish bowl a chance to “cycle.” The suggestions didn’t quite feel right to me, but I kept going forward with it on faith that it would work. It didn’t.

I should have listened to my gut instead of seeking advice and reassurance elsewhere. Like I used to counsel new breastfeeding moms, “They’re your babies. I can suggest things that might work, but you’ve known them since birth. Trust your instincts.” I should have trusted my instincts, but after three weeks of agonizing and changing water and fretting over food and buying new this-and-that to try, I just got overwhelmed and wanted to be told what to do instead of continuing to feel my way forward and “listen to” the babies.

I tried hard to save what I could once I saw how badly south the experiment was going, and found twelve (out of 185) that still had some movement. I put them in a 5 gallon saltwater palace (compared to their previous tiny jar), but it was simply too late for most of them at that point. I couldn’t see any movement after a few minutes and completely lost it. I was heartbroken and inconsolable for a good little while.

Then Len, who has been helplessly watching me implode over the past 21 days, kindly suggested that we leave home for the weekend and try to forget the heartbreak. So I got conditions in the 5-gallon tank perfect, just in case, set things on timers, added some sinking food, and a sprinkle of brine shrimp eggs, then went away for two nights to try to forgive myself and stop focusing on what went wrong instead of what went right.

Didn’t know what I would find on my return, figured it would be zilch, nada, nothing, but I have confirmed that two are still alive and kicking. There may be more, but I’m not counting on it. And if they are there, I can’t pick them out among the live sand substrate that I used and since they are moving, I would worry I was double counting. But the two confirmed were on opposite sides of the tank and different colors. They have gut tracks, so they’ve been finding the food in that great expanse of water. I will try to remember that if/when I get another chance. They find the food. Don’t overfeed.

Later, same day: Update: there are SIX hardy crab souls still alive and flopping. 300% better. 😛

September 18th: Day Twenty-three. I check the water often and see the occasional swimmer but can’t get a good count. So I could have one, or six, or I suppose even twelve, but I just have to let them do their thing now. I’ll be sure and announce if/when I see a megalopa swimming around, but I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. Already thinking about what I’ll do different next time I get the chance.

September 19th: Day Twenty-four. Saw a megalopa today! I’m almost certain it was dead, unfortunately, but it was SO different from the others! It had all these dangly legs and I couldn’t believe how much bigger it was. It was floating and moved quickly away on the current in the tank. I caught a glimpse of it twice before it went behind the bubbler and I didn’t see it any more.

The first time I saw it, I convinced myself that it must have been the carcass of a big brine shrimp, but the second time I saw it I realized what it was. I’m sad that it was dead, but delighted to know that at least one of the survivors was able to make it to the final zoeal stage. And there’s at least one still at stage five in there.

I got so excited after I saw that I went to the pet store and bought a real lid and light for the five gallon, a good hydrometer, a fish fry isolator, a new filter I think I can modify to keep working and not suck up tiny babies, a gallon tank to try to engineer a better saltwater pool for the big crabitat, a long airstone, and some biological conditioner. No zoea can beat me!! (Just kidding. They all kicked my butt. But next time…!)

And I may have more females carrying eggs. The two crabs that didn’t have eggs before, but exhibited mating behavior around the last full moon, are now hanging together, staying in the warmest spots in the tank, and walking in the wheel a lot. These are all things the other females did when they were brooding, so we shall see. I don’t have visual confirmation of eggs, so it’s all just behavior-based conjecture. Both these females are in dark shells which makes it a lot harder for me to confirm eggs. But it could happen.

September 21st: Day Twenty-six. Yesterday I looked and looked and didn’t see anything moving so I was pretty sure my experiment was over. I was sad, but had already grieved and made peace with the idea.

Then today, when checking salinity, just to keep it at a good level in case I get more eggs, I just happened to see one little zoea peeking out at me from a shell off to one side! I looked for a good thirty seconds and shone a flashlight on it, and it was definitely moving and had good color. Not megalopa yet, but not dead either. So we shall see! All is nearly—but not quite!!—lost. I’ll keep maintaining the tank and pretending like no one is in there (meaning not obsessing) and hopefully he’ll keep surviving.

September 27th: No movement for days. Sadly, I’m calling it. Failed Attempt #1.

But if that last female I’ve had my eye on drops eggs, it will likely be tonight. Still no visual confirmation of the eggs, but mating behavior occurred twenty-six days ago and she’s been very “broody” ever since. Tonight she’s hanging out by the saltwater pool and also sort of hanging out of her shell a bit, too, all behaviors my other females exhibited before spawning.

I’m feeling more relaxed this time around. If it happens, it happens. And if it does happen, I plan to keep my sanity and just do the minimum and see what results that brings. I’m honestly still a little burned out from the first batch. Who knows, that could end up working out best for them and for me if I’m not so obsessive about every little detail.

September 30th, 2017: Still no new larvae in the pool, but I got visual confirmation of the eggs … not in the shell of the one I thought (Gilda, who may still have them, but I haven’t seen them) but Lola has eggs again. She is my next to smallest crab and one of the ones who spawned in the earlier attempt in August. I’m really surprised that she has eggs again now—twice in two months.

So I freshened up the pool with all new saltwater, added the little heater to keep it at 78 degrees, and just generally tried to make it exactly as I had it before when they successfully spawned.

Just before coming to bed tonight, I found Lola in the back corner where the one crab threw her eggs on a log a few weeks ago. Hoping Lola doesn’t do that, too, but I’m determined not to worry myself sick this time around. She was fiddling with the eggs, moving them around inside the shell with one of those tiny inside appendages, and then bringing it to her mouth. I’ve caught sight of my brooding females doing this quite a few times. The first time, I was convinced the crab was eating her own eggs, but the more times I’ve watched, and the more I’ve read, I think they are either coating them with saliva to make them stick together or using saliva to keep the eggs from sticking to the grooming appendage when she is manipulating them. I liken it to a bird turning its eggs in the nest. It’s that same sort of rolling motion, as if keeping the eggs turned in order to be sure they all have an equal shot at the warmest spot.

October 1st: Lola is still holding onto the eggs. She’s been hanging out of her shell on and off all day, so I’ve seen the egg mass quite a few times. It’s very nicely dark grey and not small. If she gets them into the pool, it will be a ton of zoeae. My only concern is that she hasn’t been pacing back and forth to the saltwater pool this time around like she did before. Hopefully she’ll get them to the water and we’ll have another shot. Now it’s just a waiting game.

October 2nd: Well, sadly she dropped her eggs on the sand. I checked before bed at about 11pm, and she was still holding onto them. I briefly considered whether or not I should try placing her in the saltwater, but since it worked last time, I didn’t. I got up at 6am and checked and she appeared to be in roughly the same spot, but I was sleepy and didn’t do a thorough check. At 8:30, I decided to check more thoroughly and saw a spot on the sand that looked like an uneven patch of slightly bluer sand. It was roughly the size of a quarter and a couple of inches away there was another one about the size of a dime.

It looked so much like sand that I wasn’t sure if it was eggs or not, but I thought it might be so I got a spoon and scooped them up and put them in saltwater. They sank as a clump so I turned up the bubbler. A few of the eggs then burst open, but the zoeae that emerged were not moving. I’ve been stirring the clumps and they have rehydrated some and look much more like eggs now, but I don’t think there will be any survivors.

I’m thinking they must have been on the sand for longer than just an hour or two and I missed them because the light was still off at 6:30 and my flashlight didn’t catch them. I was mostly just checking the pool. She didn’t drop them even close to the pool, so my instincts were right last night when I worried that she wasn’t repeatedly checking the saltwater pool. This is all useful information for the future.

In the meantime, the eggs are bubbling away, just in case someone revives. I’ll turn off the bubbler and check for any survivors in about an hour, but I’m not optimistic. I’m pretty sure there won’t be any. I’m somewhat disappointed, but equally relieved, honestly. I’ve got several trips away from home coming up, and I had no idea how I would do water changes for those few days. Such a roller coaster.

Several hours later: Update: There are survivors!!! Holy cow, these guys never cease to amaze me with their tenacity and fierce will to live. I honestly never would have suspected that blue spot on the sand was discarded eggs if I hadn’t known Lola had them and how close she was to spawning. I showed Len and he said, “That’s just sand.” Which is exactly what it looked like. I wasn’t even sure until I put them in the water. I’m glad the isopods didn’t find them first.

Later that evening:Day One, Attempt #2:

Guess I’ll start this all over again. I believe the record of attempts is at least as important as the record of successes.

To recap, this morning at 8am I found a patch of weird bluish “sand” near where the brooding female had been adjusting her eggs and hanging out for several days, but no zoeae in the saltwater pool. I wasn’t sure it was eggs, but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try scooping them up and dropping them in the saltwater. They had been discarded near my “garden” where I have chia and other sprouts and some moose poo, so the sand was pretty gnarly and a lot of other stuff got in there with the eggs.

The eggs were super flat looking and kind of dehydrated, and they sank right to the bottom of the mason jar in a clump along with all the detritus from the tank. I added an airstone and turned it up to a pretty vigorous bubble and then I saw a few of the eggs pop their casings but the zoeae that emerged were pale and sank without moving. It was not promising in any way, and I thought about dumping the jar out, but then I decided it wouldn’t hurt to leave them bubbling for a bit. I decided to check again in an hour.

An hour later, the eggs that remained in the jar were less flat (meaning rounder) but all the hatched zoeae appeared to be dead. I waited a bit longer, and then took my turkey baster and sucked out a sample. I shined the flashlight on the mess and saw some movement. Holy cow, survivors!

The more I looked, the more movement I saw and before I knew it there were squiggles everywhere. So it appears I have another shot at babies. This time around, I am going to try to neglect them more, just feed and water on a schedule and NOT obsess over every little change and not try to feed them everything I can think of. As of now, I’m not adding anything to the bottom of the jars (no sand, plants, or shells), and I’m keeping it all as simple as I can.

I will have to be gone for a few days next weekend, and when I do that I will probably put them in the five gallon with a bunch of airstones, reasoning that I will likely lose fewer in there (with more water that is likely to stay fresher) than I would in a mason jar with no water changes for a few days. Then when I get home I’ll retrieve what survivors I can find and go back to the jars for however much longer I can keep them alive. It’s not ideal, but it’s what I’ve got and last time I did that, I came home to six survivors and I had only put 12 in there, so I know they can survive in some percentage.

I also have the water temperature at 78-80 this time around. Just trying to see how that affects growth and survivability. Tonight I added a tiny bit of chlorella, a miniscule shake of brine shrimp eggs, and a dash of spirulina.

Day Two, Attempt #2: Not much to report. Numbers are all still good. They are turning greenish so I think they are consuming the spirulina. I still have way too many in the jars, so as I do water changes I’ve been moving some of the stragglers to the one gallon tank that I have set up. I know anything with corners isn’t good, but I’m honestly doing this to get the numbers down instead of pouring them down the sink. They’ll still likely die, but at least I won’t have had to physically throw them away alive. I just don’t seem capable of doing that … not even when I know that smaller numbers give the remaining ones a better shot at survival. I just can’t make myself. It’s hard enough to put them in the one gallon knowing what is likely to happen. This is the part where I would not make a good scientist. Too soft.

I’m going to continue to do 100% water changes at night and only give them a few brine shrimp eggs and some ground up betta pellets. During the day I’ll do more of the stuff that makes the water messy since I’ll be doing water changes at more frequent intervals. I am still doing my best to NOT think about them when it isn’t time for a change and NOT stop and stare and use my magnifying glass ten times a day to look for movement. Doing that inevitably makes me think I have to adjust this or feed that and fiddle with what is already working fine without my constant monitoring, meddling, and obsessing.

I am mostly succeeding.

I believe there are sheds in the water. Seems fast, but I thought the same thing last time, so I’m going to tentatively say we’re at Stage Two. At least this time I know for sure that these are only eggs from one female and not several.

(I will not obsess. I will not obsess. I will not obsess. )

Day Three, Attempt #2: Everything is still fine. No sign of significant losses, just the occasional dead one here or there. I’m deliberately NOT doing a count because I’m trying not to focus on the numbers, but it won’t stress me too much to say that there are at least 200 alive as of today, probably more. Not too bad, considering these were eggs cast onto the sand and forgotten for hours. I’m guessing the sand was moist enough to keep them from completely drying out (for two hours at the very least, eight at the most), and the temps weren’t so different from what was inside the shell.

These little guys really amaze me. They are tenacious.

Part of my attempt to keep a balanced perspective this time around is skipping the picture taking (which is truly a struggle that takes a significant amount of time and emotional energy) and also not making detailed reports of everything I do. I may do that after the fact, but I have a hard time not taking every piece of well-meaning advice–or at the very least agonizing over NOT having taken it for hours–and I know from experience that can put me into a tailspin. I have a plan. I’m going to stick to the plan (with tweaks as necessary) and hopefully maintain my (semi-fragile) sanity during the upcoming weeks.

Attempt 2Day Four, Attempt #2: This is my current no-stress setup. I added another mason jar to the “bathwater” and divided up the zoeae in the one jar that had the most in it, just to spread them out a little and minimize waste buildup. The fourth jar on the left is plain saltwater, keeping it up to temp for the changes. I can still get the water changes done in about 20 minutes, I think, even with three jars to manage. I’m doing 30-50% changes, three times a day at the minimum, sometimes a fourth if it seems to need it.

I have a clip lamp on the right side and the jars crammed over near it–not for heat, but for light. The little led light that came with the 5 gallon tank isn’t illuminating them enough. Ideally, I’d have even more light, but it’s too hard to configure and I want the top on to minimize splashing as this is setup on my work desk. It’s also by a window, so getting some natural light. I turn the lights all off at about 7:30pm.

The one gallon betta tank on the left has the zoeae in it that I considered “stragglers” from the water changes in the mason jars. They appear to be doing great. No clue how many are in there as I’ve also added some that looked lifeless but not falling apart. In my experience, very occasionally those ones will “revive.” So this betta tank became my Tank of Last Chances.  It also has a tiny heater, but it only heats to 78 degrees Fahrenheit—I can’t adjust the temps at all. It’s just a little cheap-o heater. I have barely fed them in there but the tank has been up and established for several weeks. I initially though it would be my saltwater pool in the big crab’s tank, and I tried it in there for a week, but didn’t like it and neither did the crabs. So I went back to my old water pools and kept this one filtering until I put the babies in, then I turned off the filter. The live sand substrate (from Drs. Foster and Smith) may be keeping the ammonia levels down. I’m occasionally swapping out some water in this tank, but not keeping to a schedule, and mostly just ignoring it and only turning the light off and on, throwing the occasional bit of food in.

I think all the zoeae that I added to the surrounding water in the 5.5 gallon tank have died. I didn’t think they would do well with the jars in there, too, so I didn’t put many in, and I can’t see any at all now. I also checked the salinity and it was pretty high, so that may have been the issue, too. For now, I won’t be adding any more to the “bathwater” but will try to keep it viable as a future saltwater tank in case I clean it up and put survivors in there when I have to go out of town next weekend (like I did before).

Still nothing in the three jars but the bubbler and the zoeae and whatever I feed them. I’ve been siphoning from the bottom more this time to get the chunks. I didn’t do a 100% water change last night but I may still go back to some version of it just because I like to get the jars clean every couple of days. I’m not sure it’s that big of an issue for them as they were doing fine in the last attempt with that as part of my schedule for 20+ days and I only had the catastrophic losses when I decided to try and let the waste build up hoping the jars would begin to cycle. So I’m keeping an eye on them and will make that decision on a day-to-day basis.

So far so good. This is still the easy part, so I’m trying to stay measured and not count my megalopa before they molt.

Day Five, Attempt #2: Everything appears to be going well still. (Knock on wood!)

Still only at Stage Two, as far as I can tell. I’m more convinced than ever now that my previous attempt (with multiple females spawning at the same time despite mating on different days) was a case of overlapping molt stages that led me to believe they were advancing faster than they were.

I now have about 50 or so zoeae in each jar (3 jars total) and an unknown number in the hexagonal gallon tank, but fewer than 20 in there would be my best guess. So still somewhere in the range of 200 survivors.

I’ve been feeding extremely small amounts this time around, but a pretty decent variety: brine shrimp eggs, chlorella, phytoplankton, betta grains, finely ground shrimp and lobster pellets and fifteen minutes before a water change I offer a tiny bit of a product called First Bites, designed for fish fry. Sounds like tons of food, but it’s really the absolute tiniest amount I can add each time, like one beta grain, and the dust of chlorella tapped off a tiny plastic spoon, and whatever powder sticks to the end of a chopstick. That sort of thing.

Figured out (so simple—doh!) that I can do a partial water change but use a clean mason jar to put them in, thereby avoiding the 100% water change issue but still getting them in a clean container which was really bugging me. Don’t know why it took me so long to get to that common sense fix, but it did. So I’ll do that tonight, and put them to bed with non-messy food overnight.

The water quality has been a lot better with less food. Also, I have far fewer zoeae in each jar this time. Last time I had three females successfully spawn in the saltwater pool. It was thousands of zoeae and even with five jars it was super crowded and hard to keep clean. This time, one female spawning on the sand reduced the numbers without me having to discard them, so dropping them on the sand probably helped in a weird way, too.

It really is SO easy to lose focus for just a minute and forget to replace a bubbler or mix up the jars or forget to use Prime or knock something over … or or or. The possibilities for a screwup are endless.

Day Seven, Attempt #2: Forgot to post yesterday, but there wasn’t much new. I’m listing the day and the attempt each time so that other hermit crab owners who might try to breed Purple Pinchers (Coenobita clypeatus) can see right away what day the zoeae are at in each of my comments.

The zoeae seem to be doing really well. No obvious deaths (or the dead are being eaten, but I’m not seeing partial carcasses either). They aren’t getting very pink, but they seem healthy and active so I’m not going to worry about their color yet. I’m using a clean jar every other day to combat the gunk that builds up at the bottom, and tonight was a clean-jar night. I siphoned them into the clean jar along with about 50% of the water (avoiding the gunky bottom), then poured the remaining water into my usual sorting bowl and picked any stragglers out with a flashlight and medicine dropper. They are getting harder to spot, mostly because they are clinging to food now and also staying very still—most likely trying to avoid being eaten.

I gave frozen brine shrimp today at noon for the first time. I’m going to use it very sparingly, but I do think they are nibbling on it. I did have a really good sign after the water change: I took some of the betta grains and ground them up extra fine and added those instead of the shrimp and lobster pellets and the zoeae seemed to jump right on them. It was important to have ground them up because the betta pellets are designed to float at the top, but the zoeae don’t go to the surface to eat. Once the pellets were ground, they sank really well and the zoeae seemed to swarm them. I haven’t had that positive a reaction to any food so far, so that made me happy. It was also really easy to see what they were eating because the jar was freshly cleaned and that was the only food (beside brine shrimp eggs) that was in the jar.

Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced my iPhone camera lens set (macro, wide angle, and fish-eye). I’m so bummed. I looked everywhere yesterday and today–even in the trash, just in case. And I cannot find them anywhere, so no pictures.

I’ve also been giving a lot of thought to what I will do with them when I have to be gone for two days. I’m not looking forward to it, but I can’t stay at home. Other people are involved. I do have a plan, and I think I’ll still come home to some survivors at least. I’ll detail that more in a future update.

Day Eight, Attempt #2: Everyone looks good. Again, no dead noted, but possibly any that were dead got eaten.

I was pretty confused for most of the day, though. They look different this time around, or I simply have fewer in the jars and so can see them better. I REALLY wish I could take a picture and get advice, but the best way I can describe them looking is as shrimp with hands. At the mid-point of the bodies of many of them, they have splayed out “fingers.” At first I thought it was somehow megalopa and they were claws, but it’s only been a week and there’s no way they made it through enough stages to get to megalopa. Then I thought that maybe those were ones that had been “eaten” at the center and that was what was left of their guts, but they were still swimming and moving their tales purposefully, so I ruled that out. Then I thought that maybe they were simply deformed and that was why they had been dropped on the sand. (I was really reaching for some explanation as you can tell.)

What I finally decided is that they have their legs spread out wide in hopes of grabbing onto some food that might float by or bump into them. The ends of their legs were definitely wider, though, and kind of feathery looking. So strange. I didn’t notice any of this before, with the earlier batch, probably because there were so many. These guys are a lot more freefloating with so much space and therefore exhibiting more “planktonic” behaviors. In the great wide ocean, you never know when food is going to float by, and so you’d better have your grabbers in position.

I also think they moved into stage three today, but I’m just not sure because the sheds don’t pollute the water with fifty in a jar the same way they did with 500 in a jar.

Just keepin’ on keepin’ on. Much less stressed and obsessed this time around, which feels good. Even if I still have to remind myself to walk away and stop trying to figure out everything and/or make everything perfect, at least I’m not making myself sick.

Meanwhile, I gave my adult hermies some new shells and there have been cascading changes that I haven’t had time to track, so I’m going to have to spend a little time figuring out who’s wearing what shell, but they are happy to have some new duds. I found a great source for larger, good quality polished fluctuosus turbos (Mexican turbos) and my crabs went nuts.

Day Nine, Attempt #2: Everyone seems to be cruising along just fine. They like the First Bites a lot, as well as the frozen brine shrimp, and the betta granules. Tonight was a “clean jar” night and they clearly needed it, the bottom of the jar smelled a bit funky after I dumped it out.

Lots of zoeae had really good color tonight–sort of pinkish orange. Still seeing the weird “hands” but I think they must be normal as the zoeae with them are fine still, swimming and moving. I’ll do some research and see if it’s a thing that’s been mentioned before.

Thursday is when I’ll be going away for for 48 hours, so tomorrow I will start to prepare them. I’m going to gradually lower the temperature, just a few degrees at a time to get them closer to 78 degrees, which is what the hexagonal tank is kept at and those are still alive. I think 48 hours of lower temps is probably the best way to get the maximum number to survive until I can get back to their routine. I’m assuming they will slow down sort of like adult hermies do with cooler temps, and cooler water also holds oxygen better and is less likely to decompose any food in the bottom. I’ll probably feed them some of the betta grains to hold them over. I think those will “last” the best as food, without spoiling the water. I’m dreading being gone, but it can’t be helped so I’ll do the best I can.

Oh, and one jar of zoeae I will put in the hexagonal tank and the other two jars I will put into the round goldfish bowl that I have and affix a bubbler to each side of the bottom to try and keep it all circulating. I’ll also put some sort of cover over it to keep the bubbles from causing so much evaporation that it gets too salty. The bubblers will keep fresh air coming in, so I’m not worried about a cover.

I’ll post tomorrow night after I get them all settled for the night, then won’t be posting an update until Saturday. Keep your fingers crossed that my plan works well enough to have some survivors to keep the experiment going.

Day 14, Attempt #2: Two weeks in, and can I just say that they are so freaking adorable? I can really see a lot more about the individuals when I have ten or so in a jar. Not that I’m happy about that low number, but it’s better than zero.

Ironically, the container that I put the most zoeae in for my 48 hours away did the worst. And not because of the numbers, but because of the water flow. In my last attempt I lost the most in one day when I put them into the fish bowl and tried to let it cycle with sand and shells in the bottom. I assumed it was the substrate (and that was a big part of it), but that wasn’t all it was because this time the fishbowl was completely clean at the bottom except for some fresh food added just before I left. I keep stubbornly thinking that the best container for water flow MUST be a sphere, right? What circulates better than a circular container? Well, a mason jar does. Twice now, I’ve taken that hard lesson, but this time I do believe it will stick, having finally gotten through my thick skull.

I had three airstones in the fish bowl, even, and the zoeae appeared to be circulating before I left. But there is apparently a “dead zone” at the bottom where the 1/4-inch foot of the jar is. Over time,I believe that one or two got caught there, suffocated, and then created a sort of “log jam” that then kept trapping others. There was a semicircle of dead bodies in the little rim of that ring (which is a HUGE rim to a larval hermit crab). My thinking made sense—three times the volume of water would stay fresher longer with only half the zoeae for the volume. But it didn’t bear out. I think there was maybe one survivor in there out of two jars worth. Fortunately, at the last minute I had decided to leave about ten in a mason jar just as an experiment. Most of those survived, so if I had just left them all in the jars I would have had a much higher survival rate.

But it does appear as if I may have up to twenty survivors. There were a lot of motionless ones that really looked dead but I decided to do the same “crabby CPR” trick that I did with the eggs that were left on the sand. I sucked them up with the eyedropper, but then lifted it above the water line while it was still filling and that sucked a bunch of air into the eye dropper and that tosses the zoeae around with lots of air. It also gets off any gunk that might be sticking to them (which sometimes happens if they’ve gotten completely still at the bottom). They didn’t all revive, but many did. So crazy! They are tougher than I think and they just keep on proving it.

The strange areas at the center of their bodies I am no longer worried about. I’ve figured out that it’s the “feathery” ends of their legs and they hold them out wide to catch floating food, then clamp the food toward their bodies and eat it while swirling through the water. This is the origin of the “freaking adorable” comment. They really are smart and super visual. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about their eyes. With baby animals, you can usually tell what is the most important skill for them to have based on what is largest on them at birth. Human babies have giant heads for their big brains. Ungulates are born with long, sturdy legs and stand shortly after birth, etc. It’s the idea that reproduction puts the most energy into what will be most important for that particular animal and hermit crabs are definitely all eyes from day one. Shoot–prior to day one! You see their eyes when they are still in the eggs. And when a zoea carcass starts to decompose, the last things to go are the eyes. It can be really hard to find them in detritus, but two little black specks close together are the first thing to look for. Sometimes it’s only a head left, but most of the time it leads me to survivors. I gave myself a headache yesterday staring so hard trying to locate any survivors among the gunk.

Anyway, I’ll keep them in two jars even though with only twenty I could easily use one, but it’s a matter of spreading out the risk at this point—and I also enjoy being able to track individual swimmers a little better.

I also think there are sheds in the water today so we may be entering stage 4, although I hate to be too certain in my assessment since I was so off on my count last time around.

Day Sixteen, Attempt #2: Last night the outside temps went down to 32 here and even with our heat on, the temp went down pretty low in the tank with the zoeae. Despite having a tank heater set at 83 degrees, it was more like 74 according to the thermometer. It didn’t look like I lost any (one was sort of questionable looking–they get more opaque when they die and this one was headed that direction) but I’ll probably be able to tell tomorrow. They were definitely sluggish first thing in the morning, though. I think I have four in one jar and eight in the other. Not sure how we got imbalanced. I must have droppered some back into the wrong jar at some point, but I haven’t decided if I’ll even it up or leave it as is.

Just keeping on keeping on. No expectations, but hoping we get farther along with these guys.

Day Seventeen, Attempt #2: I would swear I have one zoea at stage six today. It can’t be, it’s way too soon, but he looks completely different than the others, is larger, and has the Superman arms. I checked this guy out numerous times today, and every time I thought the same thing, even when using a magnifying glass and extra light.

And now I’m freaking out, because the only one I saw at stage six last time was a dead one. I don’t know what changes I need to make. Reduce the water current? Start feeding frozen brine shrimp? When do I offer shells? Gah!

Day Nineteen, Attempt #2: Weird day.

1-The one megalopa was dead this morning.

2-I found a lone survivor in the hexagonal 1-gallon tank that I haven’t touched or changed the water in or added food to for a week. I caught it just before it got sucked up in the filter. It has a completely straight tail.

3-All remaining survivors are in one jar now because the other jar was losing roughly one zoea a day for whatever reason.

4-I spent 45 minutes creating a special platform to move the entire molt cave in my old 55 so I could finally clean the tank completely and return it to the owner who let me borrow it for two years. I’ve waited 139 days for that darn crab to resurface. Got nervous and sweaty and worried…moved the whole chunk of sand carefully…and … there was no crab in there. No shell, no crab, nothing. Doh!

5-Apparently, today is National I Am An Idiot Day.

6-Six survivors total. Hard to imagine I’ll get any babies all the way this try with such a small number, but the survivors do have really nice color and good strong gut tracks.

7-I’m officially stressing again. These crabs are going to drive me to drink.

8-Shoot!! That reminds me: I left a beer in the freezer. Oh, well. Beer slushee!

Day Twenty, Attempt#2: There are only four survivors tonight. Not sure what is going wrong. They have good color, they’re much larger now, and they have easily seen gut tracks. I just don’t know how to figure out what is changing in terms of their needs. Is it a nutritional deficiency? A water quality issue? More bubbles needed? Less? More sinking food? More live food? It’s so frustrating. I so badly want to do right by them, but I just don’t know what “right” is in this case.

Day Twenty-one: Attempt #2: Well, there are still four survivors today, so that’s something. I decided to start a separate jar for hatching live brine shrimp. That way, instead of putting the eggs in the jar with the zoeae, I create the mess in a separate jar then shine a light on the brine shrimp and gather a bunch in one spot (they flutter like teensy butterflies) and then suck them up with the medicine dropper and move some over to the zoeae jar. With all the partial water changes, I don’t think many brine shrimp eggs were getting a chance to hatch before I sucked them off the bottom as detritus and washed them down the sink. Maybe that change is helping? No clue. Can’t tell if the zoeae are eating the hatched brine shrimp or not because they don’t look any different from yesterday. Maybe just bigger, if anything. In fact, I know they are bigger because I have to be more careful with the medicine dropper as they can now span the opening and get caught on the sides. I’m being super careful each time I move them—have been ever since the numbers dwindled drastically. Just trying to make sure I don’t lose any due to my carelessness.

I am concerned about one of the four surviving zoeae, though, as he/she appears to have a fairly good-sized (proportionally good-sized) piece of exo stuck to his tail. At first I thought it was a dead one trailing schmutz, but when I siphoned him up, he was flicking his tail as if trying to get it off, and it’s been like that all day. Maybe this is why the others were dying? Trouble with molting that makes it harder to swim and catch food? Again, who knows. We’ll just go as long as we can.

Day Twenty-two, Attempt #2: And then there were three.

I’ve switched to smaller water changes more often, thirty percent every three hours now instead of fifty percent every five to six hours, which is what I was doing before. Since there are only three now, it’s fairly easy to avoid them and I don’t have to stare at the wastewater for fifteen minutes hoping to pick out survivors. If there are three still in the jar, we’re good.

I also wiped down the lid since it was getting a little slimy. My thinking there was to keep drops of slimy water from dropping back down in. Also wiped away the extra salt that dries and builds up—for the same reason.

I added another lamp shining on them, too. I was using two a while back, but then one blew its bulb, and since I had moved them all into one jar, I thought one lamp would suffice, but they do seem to prefer the water to be as bright and illuminated as I can get it.

There may be one moving into stage six. Hard for me to tell, but he does look different from the other two. I’m doing my put-my-head-down-and-do-it routine again. It’s just way too easy to be overinvested after three weeks of caring for them round the clock and watching them slowly dwindle in numbers. Just trying not to think about it and keep up my end of the bargain.

Day Twenty-three, Attempt #2: I’m posting early today because I have an author event this evening and I know myself well enough to know that I’ll be too exhausted after that to make a coherent post.

There are still three survivors. One looks a bit sluggish. I actually thought it was dead this morning at 6am and almost didn’t put it back into the water after it got siphoned up, but I did, because I am eternally hopeful, and now I see that it is still moving, so that was a good decision. What concerns me about this little guy is that each time the water pushes him to the bottom, he gets covered with the specks of food that are down there and they don’t come off easily. But when he hits the bubbles, that sort of cleans it off for him.

Although I have (very cautiously) turned down the bubbles a notch because they seem to be interested in the bottom of the jar. I may turn the air back up before I leave (better to have them hungry and unable to reach food until I get home than to be caught in a dead zone and suffocating at the bottom). I also may put some shells in before I leave. Hard decision as shells do create all sorts of additional issues for me, and the last time they didn’t get any interest.

I swear, I spend so much time doubting myself during this whole enterprise, it’s really wacky. Everything is all so new, and it’s so hard to know what to do, and they’re tiny and moving quickly through the water, and WAIT! did that one just grab something out of the water???

That’s what I thought happened about ten minutes ago when I was looking for signs of megalopa with my high-powered light and a magnifying glass. (Did I mention they are SOOOO tiny!?!) I was looking at one that I thought had arms and–for a microsecond–I was certain I had seen him grab a piece of food out of the water. I was so surprised I actually cried out, “Oh!” and then immediately tried to explain away what I thought I had seen. But you know what? To heck with that. I’m going to trust that unscripted, emotional, gut response that I had and believe that I saw what I saw. I can doubt my methods till the cows come home (it’s uncharted territory after all) but when I start doubting what I’m seeing with my own two eyes?? Well, that’s just stupid in a whole, new way. I’m still not confident enough to declare to the whole world that I saw one grab a piece of food with brand new claws, but I’m going to hold on to that tiny, spontaneous moment of surprise and delight in my own mind.

Day Twenty-four, Attempt #2: Still have three survivors. Two are now at successful (so far) stage six. I’ve turned the bubblers down and added shells. I am watching them as I can, but it’s a super busy week for me. Still doing 30% water changes as close to every three hours apart as I can manage in between everything else.

Pretty sure the one that isn’t yet at stage six was the surprise straight-tailed survivor I found in the hexagonal tank which was kept at 78 degrees with less water movement. Fingers crossed.

Day Twenty-five, Attempt #2:

https://youtu.be/TN7lQINL3jc

This is the best image of the megalopa that I’m able to get. Wish it was better. But if you have a big screen and can pause the video and enlarge it, you can see the claws.

Just for reference, the first zoea to move down the left side of the jar is the one zoea still at stage five. It has a shape that is somewhat like a dolphin. The second one to come down the left side is a megalopa, and his silhouette is more like a hammerhead shark.

They’re still doing fine. I’m doing 30% water changes every three hours and that’s working well. The megalopa is either a little sluggish, or is favoring the bottom now that he has legs and claws. I’m assuming the latter, but a teensy bit concerned that it’s actually the former. Time will tell.

Day Twenty-six, Attempt #2: One of the megalopas died overnight–it was the one that was looking sluggish yesterday. So we’re down to only two hardy survivors now. I’m still feeding and changing 30% of the water every three hours. We’ll just keep going as long as we can and hope for the best.

My main goal at this point is just to make progress, learn more, and get closer each time I try, and I feel good about this attempt. I learned how to save discarded eggs from the sand and revive them, how best to arrange my setup if I have to be gone for a few days, and I’ve already gotten more to megalopa stage this time around, (starting with only 200 zoeae) than I did the first time around when I had more than 4,000 to start with. So I’m hopeful that some day it WILL work.

(And I’ll keep doing everything for these two, for as long as I can, still hoping to make it work this time.)

Day Twenty-seven, Attempt #2: I’m down to one now. I’m pretty sure the one that died was eaten by his sibling. He was fine for the first two morning water changes, but by the third, he was only a head. Whether he died and then got eaten, or died as a result of being eaten, I can’t determine, but he wasn’t acting sluggish or any different, and the survivor had a full, dark belly.

Who knows what will happen to the final one, but we’ll see how far we get.

Day Twenty-eight, Attempt #2: https://youtu.be/_IS2El6Pfcw  Here’s a slo-mo video I took of the lone survivor. All alone, but still kicking. Oh, and as of today, I have now officially gotten farther in this attempt in terms of the number of days of survival (since hatching) than I did during my last attempt. So that’s something.

Day 29, Attempt #2: Lone little guy is still alive. He’s got some weird little white places on his tail and claws … maybe exo clinging on? I hope that’s all it is. He keeps acting like he’s cleaning it off. I just hope it isn’t a parasite (like ich, in freshwater fish)—the water has been getting cooler overnight now that my house is going down to 62 after midnight. It’s still only a few degrees lower in the tank—like 82 or 83, but I have no way of knowing how sensitive these guys are. The open ocean doesn’t really change temperature from night to day so it may be an issue.

I thought this was one of the ones already at stage six, but it may have been the one survivor that I found in the hexagonal tank that was behind a stage or two. Hermit crab babies are even harder to tell apart than adults!

I’m still doing a 30% water change every three hours (except overnight, when I let it go for six or seven, depending on how late I sleep) and I’ve started feeding washed frozen brine shrimp at every change (and removing the old). I change out the jar and clean the bottom shells every day, around mid day, but keep 50% of the old water so it isn’t a shock when I move him. I’ve also put a floating plant in, which he really seems to like. He’s grabbing onto it now to stay suspended in the water column but not get thrashed around by the bubbler, which seems to be a good thing at this sensitive stage. The shells are also in there. Hard to tell if there’s been any interest in them or not. He’s even harder to see/find now that there are objects in the jar, too.

I have to be away over the weekend, so I’m really hoping he’s taken a shell by then if he’s still alive, but I’ve been working on a plan if not.

Day Thirty, Attempt #2: Sadly, this second attempt is now over, too. The last little one died last night.

Both times, I lost the last stragglers around day 28-29, so that’s where I will need to focus on changes for my future attempts. I’m still processing my disappointment, so I’m not ready yet for a crabby CSI session about what I did wrong, but I’ll get there.

The strangest thing about this loss is how invisible it is to the rest of the world. Or insignificant. But then no one really knows the countless hours and hundreds of dollars and late nights of worry. Even Len, who has dealt with the emotional and physical fallout doesn’t quite get it. But as a crab lover, I guess I should be used to my obsessions being odd to the rest of the world.Thanks for going on this journey with me. And if you are a hermit crab keeper who decides to give it a go, I hope my documentation helps. Good luck!