Summer 2018 Breeding

Kermit above and Blue below

August 15, 2018: I caught the first signs of this summer’s mating today. Everyone was a few weeks behind in coming up from their winter/spring molts this year, so perhaps this is just a reflection of that timeline. Last year’s first mating event occurred on July 31st, between Kermit and Artemis, so we’re not too far off that mark.

At first, I thought the female crab of this mating pair (the upside-down one) was Artemis, but after getting a better look I believe it to be Blue (who was a male when I adopted her in September of 2015—no visible gonophores—but had a super long molt last year (191 days–January to June!) and then subsequently had eggs last summer, much to my surprise.) She seemed very confused about what to do with her eggs last year and she never got them to the saltwater pool, instead casting them onto a piece of mopani wood. Hopefully she’ll be better equipped to spawn correctly this year. She and Kermit both came to me from a terrible pet store in Batavia, NY that has since (thankfully) gone out of business. There were so many crabs in a 20 gallon tank with a heat lamp, zero humidity, no water or food, and the only substrate was a 1/2 inch of hermit crab poos that no one had bothered to clean out for years. The crabs were big, but in thin, tiny little shells that barely covered their rear parts and they behaved like dazed and starved concentration camp victims after I got them home and into good conditions. It took them a long time to recover and learn to socialize, but they are now well incorporated into the colony and some of my largest long-term crabbies.

If spawning proceeds along last year’s timeline, I can expect zoeae on September 11th. That should be easy to remember.

The double kreisel in action.

September 10, 2018:

My larval setup is now fully prepped in readiness for the hermit crabs spawning which I hope will occur either tomorrow or overnight tonight. Here are the specs:

35% salinity, verified with my handy dandy refractometer (freshly calibrated).

Temperature for the surrounding water is set at 83 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s taking two heaters to get that.

There are 2 1/2 gallons of saltwater in each of the side-by-side kreisels. I used Reef Crystals this time around for the extra minerals and calcium.

You can see that the nannochloropsis in the left-hand kreisel is doing well—it’s nice and green.

I decided not to keep the Chaeto (seaweed) in the right-hand kreisel—it wasn’t doing well in there and started looking almost moldy, so I guess that’s a no-go unless I try ordering a new batch.

I practiced replacing water with the big siphon, and that was easy with no issues.

I’ve mounted the two automatic feeders, one on each side and put a couple of plastic beads in there just to make sure they dropped okay and at roughly the correct time. (They did.)

My main crabitat is also tidied up, water changed, and shell shop cleaned since they will be getting a minimum of attention once the eggs drop. LOTS of poo in the shell shop, their new favorite loo.

I also upped the temperature in the crabitat after I checked my notes from last year and saw that it was up to 87 degrees just before spawning. The females with eggs are definitely congregating in the warmer spots, so it made sense to raise the temps a bit.

I have four gravid females currently: Blue, Artemis, Lola, and Garbo.

Oddly enough, Miriam and Kermit appear to be mating today, so that gives me hope about a second attempt, too. Now just waiting.

September 12, 2018

Still waiting for spawning to occur. In the meantime, this video shows the crazy activity in my tank today. The females with eggs are definitely “migrating,” following that intense biological urge to make it to the ocean and spawn. (I don’t have the heart to tell them that their “ocean” is only six steps away.)

Day One, 9-13-18

We have babies!! 

Good Morning Spawn-shine!

This is what I awoke to this morning, finally. This first picture is from the saltwater pool in my crabitat, and those tiny white specks are the hermit crab zoeae. That gives you a good idea of JUST how very small they are. I sent the picture to my sister and she said, “What? those little bubbles?” To which I answered, “Exactly.”

And here is a video, shot in slo-mo, that (if you are patient enough to wait for it) shows a couple of them furiously swimming, legs and swimmerets going like crazy. So adorable.

Day One, with yolk sac.

And finally, a close-up of one of the babies. I believe that orange coloration is the yolk sac, which they will consume today, so no feeding necessary until tomorrow.

Day Two, 9-14-18

Artemis, with eggs.

Artemis still has eggs today. This is now 28 days post-mating (Artemis and Kermit mated on August 17th). The eggs are extremely dark gray (you can see them as the uneven mass back in her shell on the right side) which means they are well developed and it’s time for her to spawn. The gray color is mostly a combination of the development of relatively large-for-their-size eyes and the dwindling of the orange yolk sac. They may hatch hungry. I would love to get a video of her spawning, but I’ll have to see how late I can stay up. If I miss it, I hope they survive until morning. I want to be sure that as many of Artemis’s larvae survive as possible. She is my most social and friendly crab. She comes to the sound of my voice and takes food from my hand. If I’m going to breed captive hermits, I want to do my best to select for the traits that will make them better pets than wild animals.

My first morning water change (1/2 gallon out of 2 1/2, so 1/5 of the volume) went fine. A little hectic with Molly (our new rescue pup) helping, but the first few days always feel 100% frenetic until I get in the groove (at which point it becomes only 75% frenetic). The larger tank volume is definitely nice, but I already get the sense that the Kreisel will be much harder to get and keep clean than the jars were. I fed three times today, small amounts, but I could make them even smaller and will try to do that tomorrow just to cut down on the waste. I feed a tiny drop each of Marine Snow, Nannochloropsis, and Decapsulated brine shrimp and watch it disperse. All three stay suspended well in the water column, which is helpful. Oh, I also hatched some live Artemia and added a dropperful of those to the tanks to encourage hunting behavior. I didn’t get a chance to watch for eating as Molly got very jealous very quickly.

Oh, and someone spawned in the fresh water last night. 🤢🤮😭
That was a sad and stinky affair (they can’t survive in freshwater). Thousands of dead and already rotting zoeae. I had to pull out the whole pool and clean it top to bottom. Too much stank.

Oddly enough, I think it was Lola who spawned in the freshwater (she was the one who dumped on the sand last year). And now that I think about it, all that weird guarding that Kermit had been doing of Lola for three whole days took place mostly near or right beside the freshwater pool. Was he trying to keep her from dropping in the freshwater?? I hate to ascribe too much “intent” to the actions of invertebrates, but this is certainly a curious possibility…

Off to do another 1/5 water change. Hoping that will hold them for the night. I have noticed that in the tank with the Nannochloropsis growing on the floor, the larvae appear to be dropping down and eating some of it. I’ll be able to tell for sure if their bellies turn green.

Day Three, 9-15-18

I awoke to find ANOTHER freshwater spawning catastrophe! 😭😭

So frustrated. I don’t know who it was, but there are thousands more dead zoeae in the freshwater pool. The whole bottom is gray with them. I’m nearly 100% certain that the freshwater actually causes their gut tracks to sort of explode, but—just in case!—ever the ridiculous optimist, I siphoned some out and put them in saltwater with a vigorous bubbler. I’ll check for survivors in a few hours, but I’m not really expecting any.

Last year I brought some back to life that had been cast on the sand and partially dehydrated, so there’s a slim hope. I also found some eggs on the rocks around the pool and on the edge of the pool. Figured those had a slightly better chance, so put them in a separate container with a bubbler. We shall see.

In the meantime, the other two tanks need food and cleaning and the puppy is desperate for attention. Gah! At least I’m not dealing with a hurricane on top of everything. I hope everyone in Florence’s path is staying safe.

Day Four, 9-16-18

Super busy day today so I just made a video of my setup to share. Trying to revive some of Artemis’s eggs before I head out to attend a friend’s book launch at Silo City in Buffalo.

Day Five, 9-17-18

Today has been a “shed day,” meaning they are shedding their old exos and moving into larval stage two. Great news, but a huge mess in the water that I’m trying to stay on top of—super hectic. Unlike mature crabs, they don’t eat their exo, so the water gets quickly clouded by “ghost crabs” the empty, white, eyeless exos and fouls quickly, too.

Day Six, 9-18-18

All appear to be at Stage Two now, except for Artemis’s which were behind by three days and then spent two days being “washed” and separated from all the muck that had attached to the eggs from the substrate. I didn’t really feed them during that time because I couldn’t even be sure they were alive. But I probably have about 300 or so that survived from her various egg-tastrophes. So. Much. Work. I sure hope she appreciates it. I was hoping to keep them separate so I would know which ones were hers, but it really isn’t feasible. Tomorrow I will add them to the kreisel tank where they will undoubtedly do MUCH better. (They’ve been in two Mason jars as I cleaned them—sort of like panning for gold—swish and swirl and jiggle, stare really hard and shine a light into the detritus, then swish and swirl and jiggle and repeat.)

I’m really amazed at the difference the kreisel tank makes. They are able to actually swim (instead of always being violently bubbled around), they can see and grab food easily, the volume of water makes changes easier, and I can see them so much better. (Still can’t manage to get decent pictures with my iPhone—they just move too quickly for the auto focus.)

I fed spirulina today and that was a big hit. They ate a ton. Green tummies everywhere. Their gut tracks are now clearly visible, which is good because I can confirm they are eating, but bad because they will soon be pooping, too, which means dirtier water.

The tank with nannochloropsis continues to be so much cleaner, and I’m not really sure why, because I’m feeding roughly the same.

I don’t really know how many I have in total. I’m guessing maybe 2,000, which is way too many to keep ahead of as they grow. I know I need to lower the numbers but it is SO HARD. What I finally did was take my glasses off when I poured off the top waste water. It means I’m losing a few every time, but if I don’t look, I can’t see them, and I tell myself it isn’t happening. It’s so tempting to think I can keep them all, but trying too hard to keep too many could cause me to lose them all—I know this. I just have a hard time pouring living creatures down the sink.

Anywho, still at it. Ordered more nannochloropsis today, got some extra baby whelk shells in the mail (might even order more) I need to get more salt soon (going through it fast!), and bought a grow lamp for the kreisel tank that I installed today and it kicks butt. I think that will make a big difference. Unlike others who have done this, I am turning it off at night, though. I’ll see how that goes, but providing a dark cycle is my preference.

Thanks for going on this ride with me. 

Day Seven, 9-19-18

I had the idea today that if I started far away and moved in closer with the camera, it might be able to better focus as it came closer. Plus starting two feet away is a good reminder of just how very tiny they are. I’m liking this way to video document them. It was much faster and didn’t require editing. (Apologies for the rogue finger wave over the lens at the start.)

Artemis’s larvae are now added to the kreisels, split between the two. Their bodies are still mostly clear, and they are so much smaller—pretty difficult to see during changes. Hoping they will catch up and color-up. I still have the tank of last chances, too (the little hex tank) and that seems to be doing just fine. Trying not to look too close, throwing food their way and changing 50% water once a day. Hoping they thrive on neglect.

The zoeae are definitely pooping now. It looks like a little black stinger coming out of their back end and they do it a lot. I’m feeding and changing 20% of the water four times a day and that equals about four gallons of saltwater mixed per day. Using my two gallon bucket it’s not nearly as time-intensive as by-the-gallon was last year. It’s also not as precise, but so far we’re good. I’ll try to do a salinity check tomorrow. (And perhaps a sanity check while I’m at it.)

DAY EIGHT, 9-20-18

Saw a few sheds today, but I think they were just a couple of stragglers still making stage two—maybe some of Artemis’s later eggs.

A few more deaths today, too, but still only a handful. And it was a stressful day for the larvae because I did a full clean of the kreisel tanks. They were getting fairly funky, so I emptied one and put all the zoeae in the other one, wiped it clean, then moved all the zoeae to the already cleaned one and cleaned the other one, then moved half of them back over.

I lined up the foods I’m feeding to show the breadth of their current diet. I will probably add and change a few things as they age and their needs change. I’m heading to my local pet store this weekend—they have a wide range of saltwater foods. I also need to get more Instant Ocean. Going through it pretty fast.

I’m changing 20% of the water and feeding four times a day. It takes about an hour each time, so I’m spending a minimum of four hours a day at this, not counting extra things like taking pictures and researching methods and writing updates. This project isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure, but I’m still enjoying the challenge.

DAY NINE, 9-21-18. 

And we’re still alive, knock on wood. I will be gone for 12 hours tomorrow for a family event (70th wedding anniversary!). I’m a little concerned about that, but I have a plan to tide them over. And today was another massive “shed” day, so at least we got that mess out of the way. I’m thinking this must be Stage Three, but a little leery of saying that definitively since I got it wrong last year.

No update tomorrow. See you Sunday. Keep your fingers crossed and send saltwater! 

DAY ELEVEN, 9-23-18.

Everything is still good, knock on wood. Lots of nice color developing in their bodies. Yesterday I left the light on all night, mostly because I had been gone for 12 hours and wanted them to have time to catch up eating. I fed freshly hatched brine shrimp (I set the eggs to bubbling the day before) and since both the brine shrimp and the zoeae are light-reactive, I wanted to leave the light on so the zoeae could hunt and eat and make up for the long day without feeding. Saw no adverse affects in the morning.

LOTS of sheds in the water again today. Hard to keep up with cleaning the water of shed exos, but I’m still seeing only minimal losses, I’d say fewer than a dozen.

What’s odd is, last year on Day Eleven I lost hundreds of zoeae, so I’m trying not to feel superstitious today. Not sure what stage to say we’re at, unfortunately, as there are so many variables. I don’t want to be too optimistic and officially call it Stage Four since I was so wrong last year, so I’m going to say these are most likely late bloomers still moving into stage three. They could also be some of the eggs I saved from the freshwater spawn (suspect: Lola), or some of Artemis’s (confirmed) that I saved from the sand/wood/hide, etc and those would be molting later as they were about three days behind.

I find it really interesting how having them in the kreisel this year has changed a lot—both in terms of their behavior and in terms of what I can see them doing. Whatever stage they are at now is a very “swimmy” stage. They act more like small fry, swimming toward some things (like food) and away from others (like my medicine dropper). In the wastewater now, many more of them are suspended in the water column whereas in the beginning they were all just in a big clump on the bottom among the detritus.

I bought more salt from my local pet store. Trying Red Sea Salt this time because it has a salinity closer to what the Caribbean reads this time of year (35%) and has extra calcium–good for reefs and also for shedding crustacean babies. My salinity has been reading on the low side, so it will be good to bump it up closer to my target percentage.

Today is the reptile expo in Buffalo–really wish I had the energy to attend and look for some exotic hermits. I would ultimately like to breed some other species, too.

I find that I’m pretty tired most days by the end of the day, but I’m managing to keep the doubt monster (mostly) at bay. Just trying to tell myself, “Do the steps, Mary. Just do the steps.” When I worry and second-guess is when I try to fix what ain’t broken and end up with far bigger issues. Must. Stay. On. Task.

DAY TWELVE, 9-24-18. 

Today’s slow-motion capture shows the legs and swimmerets furiously swimming. Then, right before the video ends (at about 40 seconds), one of the empty, shed exos drifts past from the right. It looks like an eyeless, opaque, ghost zoea. I’ve been trying to capture one on film for days and excited to have finally caught one drifting past the lens. On shed days, there are literally hundreds of these in the water, causing me to double-clean just to keep the water clear.

DAY (lucky) THIRTEEN, 9-25-18.

No sheds today, thank goodness. It was nice to have a break. I only changed the water three times, 20% each time. Still feeding a wide range of foods. Added a new one that I found at the pet store on Sunday. It’s called Goniopower and meant for corals, but it’s just basically zooplankton and the larvae seem to really dig it.

I’m seeing quite a bit of size differential in the zoeae. Some of that can be accounted for by the late add-ins, but even among the larger ones there seem to be a few that are just noticeably larger. I don;t know why this should surprise me–in almost any clutch of eggs from the same parents one or more of the offspring outcompete the others. For some reason I just assumed they would all be the same, but in hindsight that’s a pretty silly assumption. The ones who are better at finding and catching food are of course going to be larger. Biology 101.

I’m still giving them a night cycle, but keeping the light on a little longer in the evenings because I’m feeding freshly hatched brine shrimp at the 7pm feeding and I want to give them time to catch them. I can see bright orange tummies before turning out the light, so it seems like a good strategy.

It’s interesting to see their behavior change as they mature. In the wastewater, the larger ones hang out, suspended lazily in the water column like fish. The smaller ones hide down in the waste at the bottom of the bucket, even clinging to pieces of food, algae, or dead zoeae, which makes them incredibly hard to spot and save. That sort of hiding is a great strategy in the wild if someone is trying to eat you–not so great in captivity when someone is trying to SAVE you.

Day Fourteen, 9-26-18. 

The babies are officially two weeks old. (And I’m feeling ten years older!) Migraine this morning. Definitely need to step back my efforts a bit. They’ll be fine without me obsessing over them, and might even do better. I had to be gone for seven hours today and they were okay.

It was also a shed day, so I feel confident saying that we’re moving into stage four now. Tomorrow will probably be the big shed, and then I’ll make the call for sure.

Day Fifteen (and squeaky clean). 9-27-18

Also, I did a (very) rough population count and I’m estimating I have about 500 in each of the kreisels.

Day Sixteen, 9-28-18.

Just realized my glasses looked super foggy/dirty. Took them off to look closer and try to figure out why. Turns out spending six hours every day hovering your face over a bubbling kreisel tank causes salt spray buildup on the lenses. Huh. Who knew?

Besides everyone, I mean.

Please. Send. Help.

Day Seventeen, 9-29-18.

Everyone seems fine. Minimal losses still. More sheds today but just late bloomers, I think. No pictures to share tonight—I’m just barely keeping up, but we’re still on track and there’s nothing new about their development to report.

I’m starting to put a lot of energy and research into the next stage. If my survival rates stay this good, I am definitely going to need more teeny tiny shells. I do have a bunch, but I need to sort and clean and organize what I have and then figure out how/where to order more. If I get really behind, I may ask some of my hermit crab friends for help in researching where to get teeny-tiny-crazy-tiny shells.

I found some larval lightning whelk shells on Etsy and those have arrived, but it was only like 25, and not all will be usable. I’ve already got some that I picked out of live sand last year, I bought some tiny turbos from Alaska Hermit, and the ones a friend picked out one-by-one for me from a whelk egg casing. I’ll try to take some pictures of the shells I already have and share them soon. Bear in mind, the shells that are in Michael’s and the Dollar Tree LOOK really small, but those are several sizes too large, actually. I need shells that look approximately like SAND.

I’m also getting concerned about what they will eat once they reach the glaucothoe stage and get claws instead of their little feathery hands. The things I’m using now are great for planktonic larvae, but won’t really work for clawed creatures.

I’m thinking I may move my one E that’s up over to the big tank and use the 55 as a baby hatchery if I get a ton of megalopa. I’ve been watching YouTube videos about the megalopa stage and trying to plan. Getting nervous and I’m not even there, but the ones in the video came at day 24 for PPs, and that’s only a week away.

But I do realize these are all good problems to have.

Day Eighteen, 9-30-18.

Finally got a really good closeup shot of one that I think is at Stage Four. A drawing of the various stages provided for verification. (Credit for the diagrams goes to: The Larval Development of the Tropical Land Hermit Coenobita clypeatus (Herbst) in the Laboratory Author(s): Anthony J. Provenzano Jr.)

Day Nineteen, 10-1-18.

This was the day last year when I questioned everything and tried new things and lost all but about a dozen (and then cried myself silly). I’ve been feeling weird today, too, like there’s something important I’m not giving them that they need. But I’m trying to just keep my head down and keep doing the steps.

There were definitely more deaths today, but nothing catastrophic. Maybe 20 or 25? And it’s consistent with the notes and accounts from the breeding attempts of others. Going from stage four to stage five is a big jump in size and changing bodily structures. It’s natural that more would go wrong. I saw one carcass that had died mid-shed, like it couldn’t get all the way out of its exo and drowned. I don’t think this increase in loss is related to my efforts, but I am hitting a “blah” spot. Hard to say whether it’s from fatigue with the process or doubts over what they need. Anyway, tomorrow is another day. We’ll see what that brings.

Day Twenty, 10-2-18.

Mixed my 100th gallon of saltwater today. Also had a dream last night that I woke up to check the crabs only to find everyone dead, floating in weirdly white water. Made me hesitate to even check this morning after that, but nothing seemed any worse, thank goodness. Clearly my subconscious is working on worry-overdrive.

Today I am trying not to lose sight of the fact that what I’m doing is really part of a larger goal (to get hermit crabs treated as exotic pets that live for decades, bred in captivity, and NOT harvest from the wild in 50 pound feed sacks and transported for weeks with no food and water). So, regarding my attempts, no matter what happens I have at least already taken a few steps toward that goal. I’m actually feeling pretty positive today—probably due in large part to all the kind and encouraging words from my fellow hermit crab fanatics … plus, you know, riding that old Hermit Crab Zoeae Roller Coaster.

Day Twenty-one, 10-3-18.

Three weeks. If nothing else, I’ve done that. Today was deep-clean day and I had a semi-emergency. Took almost five hours to complete because I realized (after completely wiping clean and drying it) that the left kreisel had sprung a leak. Freshwater was dribbling in. I must have wiped a little too vigorously at the silicone (it was filthy). I was home alone and needed about five hands, but somehow I managed to plug the outside (under water) with one hand, dry the inside completely with a second hand, and silicone the leak with a third hand. Still not sure how I did it. It was one of those emergency out-of-body reactions like lifting a car off of your child. 

I let the silicone dry for 30 minutes and things looked good, then I added some water, put a few brine shrimp in, and when they didn’t die I added a handful of zoeae. I waited a few more hours before moving over half of them just to make sure the fresh silicone wasn’t going to be deadly. (It wasn’t.)

And after staring entirely too long into the newly-cleaned water of the other tank, I’m confident saying that we are entering stage five. Next stage is megalopa!! (That’s when they get claws and start looking for shells.) Very excited/worried about that.

Rough population count puts the total at right around 500. Deaths will go up today, because of the stressful deep clean of the tanks, but it’s always a balancing act between more dying from NOT cleaning the tanks versus more dying from cleaning them … and they had gotten pretty slimy and gross.

The other source of additional deaths today will be from the difficulty of entering stage five. This picture shows one that’s half stuck in his exoskeleton (the shed exo is the pinker tail going vertical—the new, freshly molted tail is almost clear and extends behind the orange abdomen). It’s just hanging on, probably stuck on the new leg structures. I’m seeing this a lot today—as their bodily structures become more complex, the sheds become more difficult and dangerous. This is one of the reasons I went with reef salt, because it has higher calcium which I thought would help them to have sturdier exoskeletons. I did a calcium test just to be sure, and the numbers are good, even a tad higher than a normal reef.

Now I need to go stream some mindless tv. I’m pushing the limits of my sanity once again, but thank you all for taking this trip with me. ❤️🐚🦀

Day 22, 10-4-18.

Everything is still good, nothing new to report. I’m spending lots of time trying to figure out/build the transition tank and researching what to offer as megalopa foods.

In the video you can see how much they vary in size and coloration. Unfortunately, YouTube won’t let me upload in HD, so a lot of really good definition is getting lost in the upload.

Things are still going well. A few deaths, but nothing catastrophic. Felt weird and worried all day despite the fact that I can LOOK in the tanks and see that they are fine. Just getting in my own head. Also, I’m now PAST where I got with last year’s crop, so I am officially in (personally) uncharted waters which probably is part of it.

I am concerned about the transition to land, too. Been working today on making my 55 into the transition tank. It’s overkill, size-wise, but it’s already set up and climate controlled and only had three tiny Es in it. So those will go into my big tank with the PPs. With the weather in upstate NY getting cooler, I feel more comfortable going with the established, larger tank. Ordered a thermostat today to help keep it perfectly regulated for the little ones. I also want a nice big saltwater pool for the transition pool so that it won’t foul quickly if I end up with a bunch of megalopa in shells eating frozen krill and other “dirty” foods.

But the thing that has me most nervous is that I have to be gone three days next week. I just can’t cancel. It’s my daughter’s grand opening for her board game cafe that she’s been working on for years. We’ve had hotel reservations for months. My 22-year-old son, a bio major, will be house sitting and crab sitting, but SO much of what I do is by gut and they will be making megalopa then, most likely, so…GAH!! Just freaking out.

Day 23, 10-5-18.

Still seems the same all around. Had to be gone for a big chunk of the day today so did a regular water change in the morning and a 50% water change at 4pm. Will do one more later tonight.

Frustrated to discover that my brine shrimp aren’t hatching on the same schedule as before so it threw things off. Realized the house has been colder these past few days and that’s likely why. Trying to cobble together a way to have the brine shrimp mason jars be warmer. It seems like there’s always something to tweak or adjust.

Some awesome baby shells arrived from my friend Beth Carducci–a woman who works hard to advocate for the fair treatment of hermit crabs. The shells arrived in an empty medecine bottle and at first I was like, “Who sent me pills??” (Not that I couldn’t use some sanity pills right about now, mind you.) It’s also a really good thing that she ordered so many. After all my talk about them needing to be smaller than one can imagine … I think quite a few of these may actually be TOO SMALL. 😂

But a whole bunch will be PERFECT. I already dropped a few in and the zoeae have been very curious. I put a couple of larval whelk shells in, too, from another friend (and friend of hermit crabs), Jeanne Singhass. The zoeae don’t really need them yet, but they will be an essential resource for them and I’m just wondering if NOT having access to shells might cause them to delay the final molt into glaucothoe. You never know, so I put a few in as a “promise.”

No pictures, again. Sorry. I’m just too wiped out today. I’ll do my best to have something tomorrow. But truthfully, there has been very little visible change. I’m anxious to see one with claws. ❤️🦀

Day 24, 10-6-18.

Today I am soaking some of the tiny shells in hot saltwater to clean them and get out the air so they don’t float (a big issue, actually, and you have to use a pin or toothpick to pop the interior air bubble).

Day 24 still.

OH MY GOD!!! I did it!! I have one at megalopa!!! My hands are shaking. Near the end of the video, when he flipped over and looked right at me I started crying. Look at all this beautiful legs!! And claws!! And his eyes are so far apart! I’m overwhelmed.

Day 26, 10-9-18.

Yes, that number is off from yesterday. I recounted today and I lost a day somewhere. This is definitely Day 26. Still only the one megalopa, but he’s a real cutie. Working on the transition tank today and notes for my son to take over for three days.

Day 27, 10-10-18.

I moved two megalopa over to the transition tank. It may be too early, but since I’ll be gone for three days, I thought it would be too long to wait to move them late Friday. Plus, they are turning cannibalistic with their new claws, so I moved them over with some defrosted brine shrimp and sinking shrimp and lobster food. Plus shells. It’s an opportunity for them to do what they would do in the wild…without my hovering. We shall see. I decided it made sense to at least try. We’ll see if they are still alive in the morning. If so, I might move one more over.

Hopefully I’ll have good news (or at least not bad news) on Friday. 🤞🏼🤞🏼

Day 30, 10-13-18.

I’m home from the trip to Troy to attend the grand opening of my daughter’s board game cafe. It was amazing! And lots of zoeae are still alive. I plan to do a full assessment tomorrow. Maybe five megalopa still alive? And lots of zoeae still at stage five. There were a few care issues, but nothing catastrophic at least.

Day 31, 10-14-18.

I accidentally killed a bunch of zoeae overnight in the right kreisel. I had a flat shell on the bottom that I had been using to keep the long airstone from bumping on the bottom and killing a bunch–then the shell ended up trapping maybe 20 underneath it, and THEY suffocated. I didn’t even think there was room underneath it for anything to get under there. Yet another hard lesson learned.

I’m really struggling over what to do for the ones I have at megalopa stage. They are dying before taking shells. I’ve been researching like crazy and trying some new things–but trying not to become so desperate that I try TOO MANY new things. Ugh. I hate this part of the process. So many doubts. So many worries and uncertainties.

It looks like one of the women in Germany who has been SUPER successful with PPs, and who I’ve been following closely uses both a reef tank AND a transition tank … Super interesting. I was thinking mine would go from the kreisel to the transition tank, but I like the idea of moving the megalopa to keep them developing separately from the zoeae that are still at stage five. I may try to set that up today.

Also, her transition tank is only 5-8 cm deep, but I’m not sure how deep she keeps the reef tank. Sent a message to ask. I really, really want this transition to work, but their changing needs are making me feel so inadequate!! I’m at a loss, and know from past experience that when I get anxious and start trying too many things, I’m more likely to upset the balance I’ve got going and then end up losing all of them. Gah! Did I mention how much I hate this part??

Day 31 still.

Feeling calmer now, thanks to all the smart, kind, encouraging words from my fellow hermit crab keepers. They assured me that I have gotten much farther this time than I did last time, and I am learning a lot more, so that, at least, makes this attempt a success. Mind you, I still reallyreallyreally want to get some to land. I’ve been staring at them way too much today, but thought I’d share a few interesting tidbits.

1) The megalopa, when they want to move fast, fly through the water like Superman, arms and legs pointed absolutely straight out in front, swimmerets the only thing propelling them forward.

2) They can also shoot backwards quickly like a shrimp does, curling their tail underneath them.

3) sometimes they flip upside down in the water and use their swimmerets to do loop-de-loops.

4) Sometimes they lie on the bottom on their backs, legs open, but slightly curled, waiting for food to swim in reach. They then grab it and hang on for dear life. If it swims away, they go with it.

5) Most of the megalopa are VORACIOUS and VICIOUS hunters. I had been removing the larger brine shrimp, thinking they were competing for resources, but I now believe I should have been leaving them to mature for the megalopa to hunt and eat. Instead, the megalopa are catching their stage five siblings, but they can’t kill them with just their claws, so instead of killing them they hang on tight and take bites out of their tails, eating them alive while the caught zoea squirms and thrashes. They eventually release them, still alive, but only really a head and a gut track are left, floating and twitching horribly until they drown. And of course I want the megalopa to survive and thrive, but Lord have mercy it’s hard to watch. I could never be a wildlife photographer. I always want to save the baby wildebeest from the hungry lioness.

6) I’ve added a whole lot more nannochloropsis (the water is now green) and I’m changing the water less often and leaving the brine shrimp in the tank to grow and hopefully provide alternative, non-sibling, live food.

7) I wish I could manage to get ANY of these things on video, but it just isn’t happening, so I can only offer word pictures.

8) Thank you again to all of you reading this who have reached out with support and encouragement. You help keep me believing it’s possible.

Day 32, 10-15-18.

I captured one of the fights I referenced yesterday. Set up the reef tank today, but I need to go spend another gob of money at the pet store tomorrow to get it completed. Did manage to get in a six-mile hike with hubby and rescue pup today. Having fewer zoeae and green nannochloropsis water helps a lot—water stays good longer, finally.

Day 33 … and … also Day 1, 10-16-18.

More zoeae!

 And I am SO unsure how I feel about that.

I was up till midnight, finally updating my blog and filling some Etsy orders. Just before turning out the light, I noticed Lola acting weird and another crab trying to keep her away from the freshwater pool. If you recall, Lola was the one who spawned twice last year (second time on the sand) and spawned in the freshwater earlier this summer. She’s clearly an industrious but very confused breeder.

Lola had been acting a little broody yesterday, off by herself, hanging partway out of her shell near the saltwater, but I never confirmed eggs, and yet something about her behavior last night seemed very much like spawning and I KNEW I did not want her spawning in the freshwater again (so much work to clean, so smelly and awful) so I covered the freshwater pool, added some warmer saltwater to the saltwater pool to encourage her in that direction, tried a few more enticements, watched for a bit then finally went to bed when it looked like she might throw her eggs into the shell shop. Whatever. Too tired to try anything else.

Then, just like that, this morning I have 10,000 more chances.

Day 35, 10-18-18.

So stinkin’ cute—am I right?

This was taken in a small Pyrex ramekin and this little crabby is tenaciously hanging on to the tiniest ridge of glass that runs around the inside. They are also super fast and shoot around the surface of whatever container they are in.

Today there are a total of 18 megalopa (like this guy) in the transition tank, along with some day two zoeae from Lola’s second batch. They are mostly in there as a way to monitor conditions at a glance (canary in the coal mine), and also to serve as live food for the megalopa so they (hopefully) won’t eat each other anymore.

There are also a bunch of shells in there with them. No takers so far, although I thought I saw one shell moving. I think I need to set up a time-lapse camera to record if they are in shells and moving around.

There are also thousands of day two larvae in the two kreisels. We’ll just see how it goes.

Day 36, 10-19-18.

That dot is the shell.
The dot, in close-up.

The first megalopa has taken a shell and climbed out of the water onto a rock!! I am so ridiculously excited!!! The final stage to becoming a fully formed hermit crab will occur when the megalopa crawls onto land and molts in the sand.  That on-land molt gives him the final hermit crab touches of two sets of antennae, pleiopods, land gills, and shell legs. It’s a huge change and carries a fair amount of risk. Keep your fingers crossed!

In the first photo, my finger is pointing to the shell for scale—to give you an idea of just how incredibly freaking small this little critter is. The second picture I took with a clip-on iPhone macro lens so you could see some of the actual crab details. The megalopa is right at the water’s edge so he’s soaking wet, but you can just make out the walking legs—holding both him and the shell upright—and one black eye wondering, no doubt, what the heck I am doing.

Although, come to think of it, for the past 35 days I’ve been siphoning him up through a narrow 30″ tube then shining a bright light on him and sucking him up again to deposit him back in the water, so perhaps nothing I could do would faze this little guy.

After taking the picture, I put a single defrosted brine shrimp at the top of the rock (using a toothpick) and he climbed up and ate it! (I may die of cuteness overload.) He has since crawled back down the rock and into the water. This “land practice” will likely happen for a few days (much like a tadpole turning into a toad exits the water a bunch of times as his legs grow before becoming a full time land dweller). Stay tuned!! ❤️🦀

Day 37 … Day 4 … and Day 1, 10-20-18.

Yup. Someone else spawned. Too exhausted to take a picture of it tonight, but I found a temporary tank to hold them until morning–when I will have to figure out what the heck to do with them–on top of all the others. We have officially reached the Be Careful What You Wish For stage. And the crazy thing is, I was just finishing up an already insane day, wondering if I even had time to make a post. I was just doing one final check of things in the crab room (what my husband calls the mad scientist room) … and … “Hmmm, that saltwater pool looks awfully grey …. what the—?”

I don’t know who spawned. It may have been Miriam. There’s also a slight possibility it was one of my new adopted Ecuadorian crabs. It’s doubtful, season-wise, but that E was the only one near the saltwater at the time I noticed the grayness and it was acting odd. He/she has also been following Miriam around and climbing on her shell, though, so the E may have sensed eggs and been trying to hijack her spawn for a quick snack.

The huge quantity of Day Four zoeae all shed today (a day earlier than the first spawn did). That was a time-consuming mess. So I did a full clean of both kreisels. Plus some of the megalopa in the transition tank are now crawling onto the rock WITHOUT a shell, the little buggers. (Gently squirted them back in—rogue wave.) I added a few more megalopa to the transition tank—for a total of 21—but then removed two dead ones later, so there are (probably) 19 in there (unless some have been completely eaten).

The transition tank isn’t really working out that great. The temp and humidity are fine, but it’s down in the bottom of my 55, which makes it super hard to clean, to see, and to manage, especially when the megalopa are so microscopic. I will need to figure out something different with that soon.

In the meantime, I’m totally overwhelmed. I’m going to need more saltwater mix (very soon), more Instant Baby Brine Shrimp (soon), and more Nannochloropsis. If you’ve been meaning to get anything from my Etsy shop, now would be a good time to order. I might be a little slower filling orders, but they would really help me out with these added costs. I’ve got plenty of burning bush leaves now, plenty of deer poo, and just made a big new batch of color-enhancing mix (with a new ingredient added–dragon fruit powder). If you’ve recently ordered (and I know some have!), thank you. I appreciate the support.

Now to crawl to bed and try not to dream about baby crabs.

Day 38, 5, and 2, 10-21-18.

Still deciding what to do with the new spawn. Put a few in the kreisels, but the majority are still in the 2 1/2 gallon tank and doing okay.

I spent most of my efforts on updating the transition tank. I knew it wasn’t working. There should have been 22 megalopa in there and I just wasn’t seeing them. I took out the whole big bin and then the clock was ticking in terms of warmth and oxygenated water. Really hustled to try and find any survivors AND set up a new tank at the same time. They are SO tiny and I kept taking my glasses off, putting them back on, trying the magnifying glass and flashlight, hoping to find them without hurting them, examining the ramp and rock for hangers on, etc. Found five survivors and lots of dead ones. No matter how many times I tell myself that live sand is a good idea, it just isn’t. It’s too hard to keep clean in a small space with a tiny siphon. [Please remember that, Mary.]

In fact, I would recommend the least natural-looking transition tank possible since it is SO hard to tell what’s going on in there. Contrast is your friend when it comes to transition tanks. Fortunately, two of the survivors look really strong, including the one from the shell picture yesterday. I found him among the sand and shells by rocking the bin and simulating a wave. When one of the shells moved, I knew I had found him. He moves fast. He also switched shells as soon as I put him in the transition tank, then started to climb out. After, I put a shrimp on the ramp.

I was a HOT MESS the whole time, though. I think I’m wearing a Path between the crab tank and the sink. I tried to remove the shells to move them, but they’re so tiny they stick to my fingers, so I tried to “flick” them off my hand and into the small cup of previously sorted and cleaned miniature shells. When I did that flick, I accidentally flicked the whole cup and they went everywhere—into my trash can, and all over my mini-shell-colored rug. Ugh. They will be so hard to find and retrieve but I just didn’t have the time or intestinal fortitude to search for them. Just had to keep going and get the megalopa I found into the new transition tank. I don’t think very many will make it, but they were sure to have died if I hadn’t at least tried.

So there’s that.

Day 39, 6, and 3, 10-22-18.

Made time for a seven mile hike in the woods today. My son was home and fed them halfway through the time I was gone. After getting home, I was reminded how important those little trips away are for me. Not only so I don’t spend all day walking between the crab room and the sink but because it clears my mind and allows me to step back and reassess my methods in a way that I can’t seem to do when faced with the constant checking on them and tweaking of conditions.

As a result, I’m feeling better today than I have in a while. I’ve finally figured out something about the megalopa that has been stressing me. They’ve been trying to leave the water without a shell. Obviously, that’s not a good idea—but!—with this new pool I made yesterday, not only can I actually see them, finally, but the paint trays, if I fill them deep enough, give the megalopa a sandy slope, very shallow, where I can deposit tiny shells right at the water line. Instantly, I had two streakers checking out shells. Whew! Such a relief.  ❤️🐚

I’m slowly adding the newest spawn to the two kreisels. I thought about it a lot, but I just can’t see a way to keep them separate and do right by them. They aren’t staying suspended in the 2 1/2 gallon tank and as a result aren’t doing well. So I’ll just have “three generations” sharing the tanks. I’ll vary the pipettes and eyedroppers according to the sizes and it will be okay. If, in fact, I end up with some Es, it will just have to be a pleasant surprise once they are big enough to ID.

Day 41, 10-24-18. 

Day 41, hermit crab breeding from Mary Akers on Vimeo.

I turn my iPhone sideways to video. Not sure why it insists on keeping it narrow down the center, but the image is much sharper on Vimeo than on YouTube. This is Brave Soul #3, exiting the water in a shell. I offered him a tiny bloodworm on a toothpick as a reward and it looks like a giant log next to him. Just behind, you can see a shell-less megalopa in the water, still swimming.

Day 42, 10-25-18.

Today was an exhausting and frustrating day, but I got a great video at least. I spend two hours trying to convince this little mega-stinker to take a shell. He kept hanging out at the water’s edge and doing handstands (to dry his butt?? Who knows.) so I put a ton of baby shells around him, opening facing him. That sounds so much easier than it is, mind you. He’s minuscule, the shells are minuscule, and I’m using tweezers and a magnifying glass and a toothpick and don’t have near enough hands for any of this to work smoothly. Then he went streaking onto the sand—looking for more shells, I guess. I put three more around him on the sand, he avoided them. So then I isolated him with two choices in some shallow saltwater. The video shows what happened next.

Then after a bit I put him back at the edge of the sand and he went streaking again.

At that point I had to let him do whatever he was going to do because it was also a shed day and with the kreisels SO full of zoeae I had to do a bunch of cleans. I filled all but two of the more complicated Etsy orders I received, though, so those will be on their way tomorrow. I’ve been composing words in my head all day to give a more thorough post, but that will have to wait. I’m so tired I can’t see straight. More tomorrow.

Day 43, 10-26-18.

The streaker, finally in pants.

I think this guy in the little black shell (center) is the streaker from yesterday, finally back in a shell. I moved him to the mini tank where there’s food, saltwater and fresh water, and a shell shop. The other one who came on land a few days ago ditched his shell overnight (I think he got stuck?) and died. 😢 So this is currently the only one on land in the mini tank. One more megalopa is still in the transition tank and several stage five. I moved them over from the kreisel since it had been so long. Also I believe the presence of shells in the transition tank may encourage them to molt. They are large stage five, so if they molt successfully they should be large megalopa. Really interesting to think about the various survival advantages associated with molting sooner or molting later.

In each of the two kreisels I probably have around 2,000 in various larval stages from the two surprise spawns. The later spawn may indeed have been an E. Those larvae are a lighter color, a lot faster, and seem to be more cannibalistic. I hope I get some to land so I can find out for sure. 😁🤞🏼

Day 44, 10-27-18.

Here’s a little video to give you some perspective on their size. I’m feeling pretty good about this little one’s chances. He’s feisty and busy.

So only the one today. I’m hoping for more but no clue what I’ll get or even if this one will make it. I probably started with 8,000 to 10,000 eggs from that first spawn. Still have two or three megalopa left that haven’t taken a shell yet but have shopped. Still have maybe 2,000 left from the second spawn and also 2,000 (WILD SPECULATION of the numbers on my part–haven’t done an actual count) left from the third spawn, but those are only in the early stages still. I guess that’s kind of the strategy in the wild, too. I mean, if one offspring makes it from a clutch of 8,000 eggs cast into the wild, then that hermit crab has still replicated its DNA, so is considered a successful breeder. It’s super crazy how much the cards are stacked against them from the moment of hatching. Blows my mind—and I don’t even have any predators or filter feeders in my tank (other than the zoeae themselves).

Day … 45? (They’re starting to run together), 10-28-18.

We have another brave soul headed for land! Not quite as orange in the body, but just as adventurous. What a miraculous feat, moving from water dwelling to land living. Such a huge change, such an accomplishment.

It’s happening in miniature, but is no less epic, no less heroic. Go, go, little guy. Take your leap of faith.

Day 46, 13, and 10, 10-29-18.

Green water.

This is how “green” I’m keeping the water in the kreisels now. Adding extra nannochloropsis is helping SO much!! Each of the 2 1/2 gallon kreisels is able to carry a much heavier biological load without crashing. As a result, I’m seeing minimal losses and lots of well-fed, fast growing survivors. I also lowered the temperature a bit. We’re hovering just below 80 degrees Fahrenheit now, when it had been at 83. That’s helping keep oxygen levels up and bacterial growth down. Hatching and feeding more of the live brine shrimp has also helped with water quality. But I will really have to watch the salinity now that the weather is cooler and my house is drier. I hadn’t checked in a few days, but I thought things were looking just a little off. Did a test tonight and it was pretty high—like 38, when it should be 35 or lower. Fixed that, none too soon. 😬

I moved the second little guy in a shell from the transition pool to the mini tank. So there are two in there now. I sure hope they don’t fight / cannibalize. The new one is super shy, unlike the first one. Every time I work around him he retracts and stays retracted for a long time. He’ll have to get over that! Last I saw him he was picking at a fresh rose petal. Oh! And the first little guy swapped his shell! He’s now in a long, rose-colored spiral shell.

For their dinner I used the tip of a toothpick to add the smallest possible amount of crumbled cricket, ripe banana, cooked squash, and a tropical fruit mix I’ve been “recipe testing” in my big tank. You know, typical baby food. 😂

Day 47, 14, and 11, 10-30-18.

Sorry, no picture today. Both little crabbies survived the night. And I’m just finally finishing up for the day at 10:45 pm. But all are still alive. SO MANY SHEDS, though. Really hard to keep up. That’s the problem with spawns that come three days apart. When sheds occur every 4-5 days and last for two days, and your spawns span 3 days, it means pretty much constant sheds. Every. Single. Day. Exhausting. Like having octuplet newborns with diarrhea. 😜

Day 48, 15, and 12, 10-31-18.


This little guy is one of the two on land in the mini tank. Not sure which one this is, but the other baby is currently MIA, either eaten, hiding very well, or doing his first land molt. I can’t tell if this guy has antennae or not. Do you see any? If he has antennae, it means he’s completed that final molt and I have officially succeeded. … And I can’t tell!!

The kreisels are absolutely PACKED with zoeae, a mixture of sizes from the two later spawns. They are surrounded by floating sheds, zoeae poo, and brine shrimp. It’s a mess in there and I just did a full clean yesterday. Yowza.

Day 49, 11-1-18.

Oh, what a difference a day makes!

Yesterday I was completely worn out and ready to quit. Today I confirmed that I have two surviving on land and I moved them into the hex tank (which still had swimming larval survivors—I moved them over to the kreisels) and set it up as a slightly larger mini tank. Just like my adult crabs, they were thrilled with the new digs and couldn’t stop exploring and climbing. Consequently, I couldn’t stop taking videos.


I finally got confirmation of antennae on the one in the first video, so this means I have officially succeeded! I have bred land hermit crabs in captivity. And darn it feels good. I’m finally celebrating—hence the mini bottle of champagne to celebrate my mini crabs.

The kreisels were easier to clean and feed today. Still tons of sheds (at least a thousand zoeae remain in the two), but somehow easier—probably my good mood. Plus the zoeae are now large enough to avoid the siphon most of the time, so fewer to pipette up and drop back in. That’s as exhausting as any of it.

But mostly I’m just finally feeling really, really proud and happy. And grateful to all those who contributed supplies, love, and support. ❤️❤️

Day 50, 17, and 14, 11-2-18.

I spent about an hour trying to get this last megalopa to take a shell. He stubbornly refused to shove his butt anywhere productive. Perhaps tomorrow. This one has a really dark body. Much darker than the others (who tended more toward orange). It’s mostly the gut track, so I’m not really sure what he’s eating in there, but whatever it is, it’s making his tummy dark.

He also has slightly misshapen (or off-kilter) legs. This seems to happen to the megalopa probably about 50% of the time. That stage six molt is a doozy and sometimes they get stuck or have issues getting those legs out correctly. I think they are still able to function and fix it with a molt but I haven’t been able to track an individual to be sure. Since this guy is the last megalopa of his batch, if he makes it to land and looks normal, I’ll know they can.

I’m looking forward to getting him out of the transition tank so I can clean it in preparation for the next batch which are coming along nicely. Some of the zoeae are quite large. It’s early yet, but I think I may see megalopa before Day 20 this time around. They started molting a day earlier than the first batch and haven’t stopped since. It’s Day 17 for the older ones and 14 for the younger. Also, if it turns out the second batch was from an Ecuadorian, they’ll have one fewer stage, so that will be another clue to watch for.

Day 51, 18, 15, 11-3-18.

Not much to report today. Did a full clean of the kreisels, always time consuming for me and stressful for the zoeae, but the tanks had gotten filthy, so it was time. Lots of big zoeae that MUST be stage five. Zipping around, doing loop-de-loops, generally being difficult as I try to pipette them up to return to the tanks. Whenever one avoids me especially vigorously, I always think, “Well that one has a strong will to live!”

The stubborn, dark megalopa with the wonky legs still refused to select a shell despite me isolating him, rearranging shells around him, and hand feeding him defrosted brine shrimp…diva crab. He also REALLY liked it when I took one of the dead zoeae and offered it to him. He was all over that. Much more of a scavenger than a hunter, perhaps because of his leg issues. Here’s hoping he finds a shell that meets his expectations tomorrow. 🤞🏼

The two in the mini tank continue to look good. I gave them a small cork hide, but found them snuggled together under the rose petal instead. I guess I don’t have to worry about them trying to eat each other. ❤️

Day 52, 19, 16, 11-4-18.

I’ve poured so much saltwater down my bathroom sink, the drain fixture is starting to rust. Doh!

Day 53, 20, 17, 11-5-18.

And I’m officially beyond exhausted. Kreisels are still good–they are pooping SO MUCH! And it’s multicolored poo, just like adult crabs—influenced by what they are eating. Each poo looks like a little tiny stinger from a bee and so it looks like the water is filled with beard stubble from a man who has a beard that grows in black, brown, and red.

The dark megalopa with the wonky legs was dead this morning. He never did take a shell despite hours of me trying and encouraging him to by placing them near him and even isolating him with shells on two different days. On the bright side, at least I can clean the transition tank tomorrow. I should be needing it for the newer batch soon.

Saw one of the on-land babies a couple of times today (the one in the spiral shell). He looked good. Didn’t see the other one, but I’m not about to go looking and smash him or accidentally bury him. They are so freaking small and hard to see that going into their tank even to change out food is terrifying.

In the kreisels I’ve had three shed days in a row now. Losing my mind over that. I’m not sure why no one else who wrote about this process ever mentioned shed days. Maybe they didn’t keep enough in the tank to notice them? Maybe they just thought the water was murky? But with my bright light, they are clearly sheds—thousands of them. And trying to siphon them up is like playing the worst game of Fruit Ninja you can imagine. And it’s always the bonus round where you have bombs and apples and everything all flying at you simultaneously. (I’ve never actually played fruit ninja—I’m just guessing from what I know about it. But really any bonus round on any video game would work as an analogy. Just imagine everything looks alike, with only slight differences, they’re all moving fast and similarly, and you have to distinguish which is which in a split second.) It’s kind of fun the first six or so times you do it. A real challenge. I’m a zoeae ninja!! But I’ve been playing this darn game for an hour or two at a time, three times a day (or more) for the past 53 days. I want to be done!! And thankfully, I almost am. I just keep telling myself that the water-only, molting-every-couple -of-days stage is nearly complete.

It cannot come soon enough.

Day 54, 21, 18, 11-6-18.

Still plugging along, just hanging out on a rose petal. No megalopa yet in the kreisels. Still a poop-a-palooza party in there. Hopefully we’ll have the first megalopa soon. Got the transition tank cleaned and ready.

I keep turning ideas over in my mind for how to streamline this process and make it easier/faster/more efficient for myself and others. I tried pouring the water through a small fishnet (didn’t catch the sheds—they just went right through the netting), I tried pantyhose on the end of the siphon—but then the sheds don’t get removed and that’s super important to water quality, and I tried hovering the siphon in the “dead zone” where the waste tends to circulate, but I got tons of zoeae that way, and it’s such a monumental pain to pipette them out of the wastewater and back into the kreisel that I would rather spend the time (and crank my neck for fifteen minutes) to avoid getting them in the first place (as much as is possible).

Day 55, 22, 19, 11-7-18.

Still good. Eating in the food dish—spirulina, dried brine shrimp, dragon fruit powder, and powdered cuttlebone. Still no megalopa in the kreisels, but I feel like tomorrow will be the day that I will see the first one. Just trying to keep ahead of the sheds and the poo. Mostly succeeding. Lots of cannibalism again (must be the stage) but numbers are so high still I’m not concerned.

I wish I had some way to know how often they will be molting on land. It’s happened at least once, but I’m not even sure how long molts take when they are this tiny, if they tunnel down, or what their molting behavior looks like. They are super difficult to keep track of at this size. If I catch them out and about, I feel lucky. Otherwise, I let them do their thing. They are way too tiny to handle without hurting them. I’ve been struggling to come up with some common object to give as a size reference (since pictures don’t accurately convey their size) and the best I can think of is a peppercorn. Shell and all, he is smaller than a peppercorn.

Day 56, 23, 20, 11-8-18.

I’ve set up the transition tank and moved a few zoeae over just as an experiment. I’m having a weird issue that isn’t currently a huge problem but it does concern me. Lots of the stage five zoeae are transitioning into megalopa, which is good, BUT the other ones that are still at stage five appear to be attacking and eating the megalopa as they are molting so that I’m only seeing dead ones. I currently have way too many zoeae in the tank, so it’s not a problem to lose a few, but it just seems weird. Last time, it was the megalopa that were eating the stage five, which makes a lot more sense to me. I don’t know if the fact that my population of survivors is so much higher this time around is part of the issue, or what. There’s no other obvious reason that I can discern. I’m feeding mostly newly hatched brine shrimp since they are losing interest in the other stuff. Also did a full clean of both kreisels today.

The two already on land are okay as far as I can tell. Saw the one in the little dark turbo shell, but didn’t see the one in the spiral shell. Gave them their first popcorn and it was like Mount Rushmore to them—the big rock popcorn mountain. Ha! Also tried a tiny dab of organic, grass fed ground beef. Didn’t see any interest in that. May remove it before I go to bed.

Still keeping them alive, but really ready for it to start to wind down.

Day 57, 24, 21, 11-9-18.

And just like that, this morning the water was mostly clear, the kreisel was still clean, and the numbers are down by at least half. So weird. They ate each other all night long and made my life so much easier.

Both of the land babies are now in black turbo shells so I can’t tell them apart anymore, but both are still happily climbing and eating.

Numbers are down somewhat in the kreisels (predation) and a few of the megalopa that I moved to the transition tank are still looking good and strong.

Also set up an intermediate tank just as an experiment. Some of the stage five that looked very ready to transition to megalopa (they get sort of bulgy and pregnant looking with all those extra legs ready to pop out…and/or their eyes start to get farther apart) I moved into that intermediate tank. It’s a 2 1/2 gallon beta tank with sand and shells in the bottom and about 3” of heated and aerated saltwater. The idea being that they will have more camouflage and places to hide and will hopefully be better able to transition without getting eaten. After they are megalopa I can move them to the transition tank.

So, yeah, I lied when I said it got easier today, because I made another tank for me to monitor. Doh! Let’s see… that’s how many now?

1) big tank

2) kreisel #1

3) kreisel #2

4) transition tank

5) baby tank

and now

6) the intermediate tank.

Oh, and two mason jars of brine shrimp I have to keep warm, aerated, and hatching and spaced out so there’s overlap. Yowza. My crab room is full of air pumps, heaters, lights, and bubblers. 😜

Day 59, 26, 23, 11-11-18.

Blue above, red below.

I noticed today that a couple of the stage five zoeae aren’t orange like all the others have been, they’re an unusual blue (sort of grey-blue like an uncooked shrimp). In this picture, you can see the blue one above the two shells (center) and an orange one just to the right of the shells for comparison. Quite a difference. More than just a food thing (because they are all fed the same), I think this means that the last surprise spawn actually WAS from the small Ecuadorian that I saw near the pool (I adopted three late this summer and have been mostly leaving them alone so they could adjust to the new digs). I’m not prepared to call it as 100% an E, but I think this makes a lot of sense, especially given the level of cannibalism I’ve seen in this newer group. It’s off the charts—and they are fierce about it, too. Plus, many of the zoeae have been extremely fast and acrobatic in the wastewater when I try to put them back in the tank and many also haven’t colored up as quickly as the last batch.

If so, I’m really stoked that this may be the case, but also worried for all the remaining PPs that are currently transitioning and getting eaten before I can even get to them to move them to safer waters. I probably lost several hundred today. Since they tend to transition first thing in the morning after I turn on the light and feed them, my new strategy is going to be trying to spot as many as I can (first thing in the morning) either pre-molt or mid-molt and move them over to the intermediate tank where they actually have sand and small shells to hide in while they harden up. Let’s hope it works.

Day 60.

All still good, just so busy that I don’t even have time to explain HOW busy. 😂 Lots and lots of megalopa transitioning, which is good but I’m not even sure I have room to accommodate them, but we’ll cross that bridge when (and if) we come to it. I haven’t seen any blue zoeae become megalopa—looking forward to seeing what that will look like.

Have a bunch of family coming for a Thanksgiving, starting a week from tomorrow. Really hoping these guys can rush this whole transition-to-land thing. 😂

Day 61, 28, and 25.

Here’s a video with info and a quick tour. It’s the fastest and easiest way for me to do this. Mondays are really busy days here and I’m staving off a meltdown today. I really, really, really, REALLY wish I knew what I was doing!!! Gah, some days are just so freaking hard. Everything is always changing, each tank has different needs, sometimes they start dying and I have no idea why. 😭😭

I know how miraculous this all is and how lucky I am to be able to experience it and to have the time and resources and support to take it on … but Lordy, some days. Honestly, it’s pretty consistently awful drudgery, punctuated by moments of sublime wonder and excitement. But this constant uncertainty and so many little lives in the balance and all the unknowns make me crazy!

A big part of why I’m doing this is to make it easier for those that try after me—creating a record of what worked and what didn’t to take away some of the guesswork for others—but day-to-day that goal gets subsumed as I fret and worry and try something new when the old stops working. Ugh.

I’m not someone who likes playing god (except in my fictional worlds) and the other day (to get through a rough patch where I couldn’t save all of them) I told myself, “You aren’t playing God, you’re playing Ocean.” Adopting that slant helped some, especially when I thought about all the times I’ve been in or on the ocean. Sometimes the vast ocean is comforting, a cradling, crackling, salty womb, but other days it’s wild and dirty and scary, completely indifferent to my piddly little life to the point of seeming mean. On those days when I’m struggling hard and losing some of the zoeae without knowing why, or fumbling in my efforts and causing unintended issues, I just tell myself, “You’re the ocean, Mary. And today the ocean is dirty and mean.”

Day(s) 62, 29, 26.

Crablandia is out of control. The megalopa in the transition tank are climbing out of the water naked. The stage six zoeae are killing the megalopa in the kreisels as soon as they transition. The babies on land are MIA. And I have no clue what to feed anyone anymore.

Some of the bizarre things I spent today doing:

1) Sitting in front of the kreisels, pipette in hand, waiting to spot a newly transitioned megalopa swim past so that I can reach in and whisk it out of the kreisel before a stage five attacks and kills it.

2) Performed 4 exo-cisions, a special procedure by which when I spot a megalopa stuck in his exo (it usually hangs off the claws and if they can’t remove it, they eventually drown), pipette him out and into this tiny antique salt cellar, move it under a bright light, and using a toothpick very carefully pin down the exo. Normally the megalopa backs up and separation is completed. If not, I drag him a bit, using his body weight to help release the exo. Then pipette him back into the intermediate tank.

3) Spent several hours sifting through my bag of live sand in search of miniscule shells. Then carefully determined if they were intact, with no holes, if so, I then used a straight pin to clear the opening, trying not to push it through the other side and make a hole in the process.

4) Carefully constructed a “shell wall” of sorted and cleared shells at the border of the sand in the transition tank, thereby insuring that if a crab insists on crawling out naked, he will at least have to climb over a wall of appropriate shells, opening side facing up, so that in the process of streaking he might accidentally slip, drop his butt into a shell, and think, “Hey, something about this just feels right!”

5) Doubted everything I’m doing, sweated, worried, and fretted because each time I managed to stabilize conditions in one tank, something went haywire in another.

6) Finally called it at 7:30pm (they will have to do on their own until the morning), finished dinner, played with the dog, then opened a beer and found a perfectly timed message under the cap.

Day(s) 63, 30, 27.

Did a lot of rearranging today. So many megalopa transitioned this morning I lost count—and there will be at least as many tomorrow—so I needed a new plan for them and an easy way to see when they were taking shells. I cleaned the left kreisel and put all the megalopa I could find into that with shells and about five inches of water. The right kreisel has all the remaining zoeae. It will mean extra cleaning in that, but only for a day or two, because as they transition to megalopa I will move them to the left kreisel—provided I can get to them before the murderous zoeae. Since they transition mostly in the morning, I expect tomorrow morning to be busy.

Oh, and I also have a plan for a second transition tank to place in the 55. Siliconed the ramp and added sand to it today. Hoping it will be cured enough tomorrow. I think it will be fine given that my earlier emergency kreisel repair only had 30 minutes to cure and was fine—no zoeae died.

Still nobody on land in a shell, but several streakers keep trying. Maybe tomorrow.

Day 64, 31, 28, 11-16-18.

🎼Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64….days old?🎼 Apparently, yes, I will, little crabby. One of the land babies was out today, pushing shells and seeds into the pool. Apparently they hatch knowing how to be mischievous. Maybe that one should be Loki.

Lots of megalopa doing handstands at the tideline, drying their butts and I guess practicing land breathing. Several streakers, but I’m thinking tomorrow I’ll see the first ones from the second spawn event start to come to land. I also have to sneak up on them when I need to siphon them up. I have to get them from behind. If I don’t, it’s like trying to get a cat in the bathtub. They spread their legs wide and grab onto the end of the pipette like, “Uh-uh! Nope.” And they will not budge.

Lots of water changes in the right kreisel, which is SO full of zoeae still. I’m ready for them to transition!

I am incredibly behind on everything. Yeesh. I hate that feeling. And my Thanksgiving company starts arriving Monday. Whew. Somehow we’ll make it all work.   

Day 65, 32, 29, 11-17-18 

Ugh. I don’t even know where to start. Was feeling so good about everything yesterday when I closed the door and turned off the light at 8pm. Woke up at 3:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking of all the things I have to accomplish and how I might do that. Finally got back to sleep sometime after 5, then overslept and didn’t start the first water change until 8:15. Went to light up the newly hatched brine shrimp only to discover that somehow the air pump had gotten knocked last night and stopped working–lots of brine shrimp, but all dead and already stinky. Couldn’t feed those and that is currently the only thing the zoeae are reliably eating–probably because they are such killing machines they like their food alive and kicking.

The later water change (from oversleeping) meant that at least 300 megalopa were already dead because they had morphed and gotten killed by the blue stage-five zoeae while I wasn’t there to intervene. SO. MUCH. CARNAGE.

And they aren’t just killing for eating anymore, it’s clear, They target them and dispatch them quickly. it’s just straight up killing. I think it’s a resource competition thing…or the fact that once the megalopa harden up, THEY start to kill the zoeae. I don’t believe in an ONLY competitive model of animal survival (cooperation is seen a lot, too, just not generally in babies). When it comes to babies of any species, that selfish gene rules the day. Babies will do anything to outcompete their siblings because it really is a matter of life and death. And these zoeae aren’t even siblings of the PPs (I don’t think–still pretty convinced they’re Es). But I think they are “smart” enough (in a selfish gene sense) to know that it’s kill now or be killed later, so they are killing now with a vengeance.

And the carnage isn’t even the problem. per se–there are still tons of zoeae, and truthfully I couldn’t handle 300 more megalopa right now. I’m already incredibly overwhelmed just by the ones I’ve managed to save. BUT once dead, the carcasses foul the water quickly and then more die just from the fouled water. OR I work my butt off changing the water SO MANY TIMES …you get the idea. Woe is me.

Threw out my back around 9am–putting on a sock. How does that even happen? That made the water changes even more fun.

Had a 10:30 appointment for my back that I barely made after the carnage. Got home around 12:30 and got right back into it only to have more catastrophes. I’m too tired to relate that whole story (still ongoing), but suffice it to say that the transition tank collapsed, creating an IMMEDIATE emergency with no quick solution. So exhausting, so nerve wracking. I’m getting tired of continually being forced to think on my feet and avert disaster. And sadly it wasn’t entirely averted, but I did my best. I sure hope we have some left come morning, but I am absolutely burned out. Hopefully the backup brine shrimp will start hatching soon.

Day 66, 33, 30, 11-18-18

I spent most of the day trying to brainstorm a better way to do things and then implementing it. Went to the store, bought some things, came home, got crafty, got super sweaty and nervous trying to make the changes, but I’m feeling like I’ve got a pretty good transition tank set up now, positioned inside the 55 gallon tank. Good for them, but also good for me. The crabs will have to do a little more work to get to land, but with my holiday company arriving on Monday I really needed something that could go longer between water changes and feedings. So I have a much bigger volume of water, 1 1/2 gallons in a plastic bin, and a long reptile ramp. Decided it was time for a head count (or…thorax count) and I moved 187 megalopa in there!! Whew! (That’s 1,870 legs!) And that doesn’t even count the newer megalopa that I decided to leave in the left-hand kreisel overnight in case there turns out to be some unexpected problem with the new transition tank that I didn’t foresee. These guys always show me new ways that I’m not meeting or anticipating their needs.

They are SO hard to catch now. Good grief. Those loop-de-loops, handstands, and super-gripping legs are really cute until you have to catch and move them. You have to sneak up on them from their tails, or they throw their legs wide and grab the rim of the siphon opening and then there is no budging them. Some will also play dead, like adult hermits, not moving and curling up their legs on the bottom, even if you puff them with water. But if you gently touch them, they shoot away and swim their crazy loops and then you have to chase them down. Some grab onto anything they can—other dead megalopa, food, dirt, shells, the roughened edge of my plastic pitcher. They are stubborn and frustrating, but fortunately for them I am more stubborn and more persistent and I insist on saving them anyway, the twerps. Many had already climbed out of the water, onto the sand ramp of the mini paint trays, and since they were dry I couldn’t siphon them up, so I carefully moved those with a toothpick. Little, minuscule glass-legged critters. Takes a gentle but steady hand, I can tell you that. It’s nerve wracking. Sometimes they’ll grab onto the toothpick themselves but usually I have to find a way to gently lift them without hurting them. They are both sturdier and more fragile than you think—if that makes any sense. Maybe you can imagine what I mean.

Anyway, many are still swimming today. Thank goodness. 

Day 67, 34, 31, 11-19-18.

All good overnight. I now have almost 400 megalopa in the new transition tank. Some in the kreisel had actually done the last molt to become hermits—but in the water. They look so different, it was easy to tell. They drowned without taking a shell as a result. I think it was because I had a smaller volume of water in the kreisel that was also closer to the heater. The warmth pushes them to progress faster. It’s now set at 78 in the new transition tank which should help.

This first picture is the very first little one from this second batch of eggs to choose a shell and come on land. The light-colored legs make me think this one might be an E. Time (really will) tell.

The second picture shows the second one to come to land. He/she is in the pink shell, center of the picture. The little crabby pulled into the shell when I loomed over with the camera, but you can see the legs still propping up the shell.

My holiday company starts arriving tomorrow so I probably won’t be posting much during the coming week. I still have SO much to do to prepare for that.

Thanks for taking this journey with me.

Day 76, etc.

This video shows the fashionista crablet from that first spawn who keeps switching shells. He/she is now 77 days old, getting some color, and the antennae are working overtime.

There are also now 66 teeny tiny babies in shells from the two later spawns. They are in the land tank as of 7:30 tonight. And when I say teeny tiny, I mean SERIOUSLY teeny tiny—not just your average teeny tiny.  It’s nerve wracking even trying to pick them up. The plastic tweezers I have grip really well, but it’s still hard to get the pressure just right—firm enough so that you don’t drop them, but soft enough so that you don’t squish their fragile little shells and see-through bodies. But they are coming out of the water quickly now, and regularly. It’s like The March of the Penguins in there. The number 66 astounds me and even scares me a little.

I will likely try this all again next year in hopes of getting an easier system down. My crabs are reliable late-summer-only breeders so I have a year to decide, but I’m pretty certain I’ll give it a go again. My long-term goal is to get the process down to a number of reliable steps that anyone can do. A (relatively) foolproof system would be a success and the more attempts I make the better I can refine the methods for those that follow me.

Day 77.

See my pretty claws? And I knows how to uze dem!

Day 79, 46, 43, 11-30-18.

A baby Ecuadorian.

This little guy may be the tiniest landlubber yet. That’s my finger he’s on—my very wrinkly, salt-dehydrated finger. He’s so small the ridges of my fingerprint whorls are a gripping surface for his itty bitty toes.

I do believe this one is an Ecuadorian baby. I’m pretty convinced now that my little E in the green shell (Miriam’s old shell) did make that final spawn that I almost didn’t try to save because I was so exhausted and pretty certain it was another PP spawning. Boy, am I glad I did now. (And they are truly tough because they spent almost a week in “holding” in various unheated tanks that I barely fed or changed the water in because I was so overwhelmed with the losses from the first batch.)

The ones I think are Es are smaller, and as stage five zoea they were blue, and they are much faster swimmers and feistier with the pipette. These are characteristics of adult Es, so it’s interesting to note that the differences are there from the moment they hatch.

Stacy Griffith, my Coenobita ID go-to gal tells me that she thinks this is an E because of the dark spot behind the eyes which is also something that adult Es have. So I’m feeling pretty confident now that we have a good number of Es in this batch as well as PPs.

Day 81, 48, and 45, 12-2-18.

Aka a really long daggone time. Whew.

Cute little pale baby.

There are 139 in shells and on land in the land tank tonight. Likely not all will remain alive but I see plenty of movement whenever I look in there. They’ve been congregating along the side closest to the heat mat so I upped the thermostat by one degree. Put in some of my meadow mix today—no takers. They may be a bit young for that yet. I’ll give it another day. I’m not entirely sure what they’re eating, but they seem to like the cork and burning bush leaves. The oldest one (81 days old) is in a really “big” shell now so they must grow fast.

There are four in this picture. The big shells are just plugging the hole in the ramp.

Taking my son to get his wisdom teeth out tomorrow so I’ll be up and gone early. Need to do a water change before we go but fortunately it only takes about 15 minutes now that I only have the one tank and they mostly avoid the siphon.

Things got really quiet in there today and I did some basic checks. Ammonia was okay, salinity was spot on, nitrates and pH were good, but nitrites were high. Did a quick water change and especially worked on cleaning the bottom, backed off on the feeding a bit, and added some more nannochloropsis. Seems all good now and they’re busy again.

Day 82. 12-3-18.

Eighty-two days old and quite frisky.

Day 83, 50, and 47. 12-4-18.

These are two of the most recent babies to take their first breaths on land.

Confirmed today that both of the two from the first spawn are still alive. I’d been worried about the shy one, but they were both out today. The non-shy one is considerably larger, definitely in terms of shell, but also in body, I believe.

As of tonight I’ve moved over 167 from the transition tank to the land tank. There are still lots in shells in the water but not many free-swimming ones are left. It will be interesting to see what the final number will be. I’m continuing to feed and change the water and do ridiculous things like feed them individual bloodworms from a toothpick or carefully lift a streaker and tuck his butt into a shell that looks appropriate. I really am ridiculously invested in these little adorable glass-legged babies. I’ve touched them and siphoned them and pipetted them since the day they hatched. They watch me back with their tiny jet black eyes and some seem really comfortable with my presence. It will be super interesting to see how they relate to me over time.

Someone sent me more food for the babies today (Instant Baby Brine Shrimp). Whoever it was, thank you. There was no indication of the benefactor’s identity this time. I will definitely save it for the next batch I get (they keep for almost two years of unopened). I’m only feeding frozen adult brine shrimp, freshly hatched Artemia, and some shrimp and lobster pellets—that’s all that they eat well in this stage that doesn’t foul the tank.

Day(s) 142, 109, and 106. 2-1-19

106 days old.

This adorable little guy is 106 days old today. My last full count (on January 8th) showed that I still had 204 survivors (out of 244 that exited the water in shells and walked onto land). A full count takes many hours, a complete tank change, and several days of follow-up because when they are this little some are always underground molting. These counts are time-intensive but important since I’m tracking survival rates over time for these very unique captive-bred individuals.

Most of the Caribbean hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus) babies have moved into 4-5 mm opening shells but many of the Ecuadorian hermit crab (Coenobita compressus) babies are still in smaller 2-3 mm shells like this one in the tiny turbo. Es are definitely a slower growing crab, even though they eat everything. This feisty little fellow was even picking off and eating tiny bits of dead skin from the callouses on my palm. Yikes. If it wasn’t clear by now, I’ve definitely got some skin in this game.