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Phyllis lows age 11, of Grand Prairie, Tex.., for her question:

What is the hermit crab like?

Most crabs are crusty characters who live in the salty sea. When threatened, these crabby creatures are more than eager to nip and grab with their sturdy pincers, and most of the time. They feel safe within their armored shells. But the hermit crab has none of these bold advantages.

A human hermit shuns his fellow men for a life of solitude. He may be a holy man trying to avoid the problems of the world or a crusty character who just cannot abide the rest of us. The hermit crab also is a loner, but the reason for his solitude most likely is timidity. The poor fellow has every right in the world to feel timid, and he is wise to keep out of sight, for his ocean world teems with hungry hunters always ready and eager to eat him.

The unlucky hermit crab has no hard shell of armor plating like most of his crusted cousins. He has a set of crabby legs and pincers. His face is adorned with long antennae and a pair of long stalks ending in watchful eyes. But there is no crusty shell over his soft, tapering body. The hermit, however, has a clever plan for protecting himself from hungry hunters while he forages for morsels in the sand.

He simply uses the discarded shell of some other marine animal. It may be the shell of a conche or a sea snail. His soft abdomen is stuffed safely inside the shell, and the graceful opening of the shell is his door. His head and legs hang over the door sill. His watchful eyes are always alert and his pincers always ready to gray each passing morsel of food' fish or seaweed, alive or dead.

There are several hundred different hermit crabs. In the tidal pools of the Atlantic there are small fellows who live in snail shells. In the pacific there are three inch fellows who live in deeper waters. But every hermit crab must grow from a small infant to a full sized adults and as he grows he needs a bigger home. Sometimes he must go apartment hunting. This job is risky, but the crab is choosey. He finds an empty shell and tenderly explores the inside with his legs and feelers. He twirls and balances it and tucks his tail inside to test it for size. He may investigate several shells before he settles on a suitable home.

As a rule, the crusted cousins of the hermit crab can scuttle safely over the sand. But they, too, grow bigger as they grow older and must discard their old shells for larger new ones, when this happens, a crusted crab becomes a soft shelled crab. While his soft, new shell is hardening, he is as helpless as a homeless hermit crab.



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