This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of 48° North.

Hermit crabs are found on most beaches, tide pools, and rocky shorelines of the Salish Sea — they’re pretty much everywhere you visit with your boat. They’re not hermits, but rather live near many others, sometimes a hundred of their own kind. 

Hermit crabs have some of the most interesting lives of any sea creature. They are crabs without a shell, so they must use other empty shells for temporary homes. Often, the shell of choice once belonged to a sea snail, but these crabs may select shells from turbans or periwinkles and even plastic cups or tin cans. But whatever it is, it has to fit the current size of the crab, and be portable enough so they can carry it around. Too roomy and the crab isn’t safe. Too small, the crab can’t get in it. 

As the crab grows, it has to upgrade its digs to a shell with a bit more space, and competition can get fierce. Sometimes it’s a fight to the death for the new home; like a real estate bidding war, but with claws. Imagine a section of beach where a hundred hermit crabs are competing for homes and males are courting females — they occasionally pick the ladies up and carry them around. Oftentimes everyone changes shells at once, because, well, when one is vacant, the next crab has a look. It’s the stuff movies are made of, don’t you think?