Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands


A penny for your…..


Photographers usually focus on the big picture, a landscape with yon sweeping panorama. However, I’ve learned to keep my eye on the prize, no matter how small. This tiny carapace, probably from a baby cancer productus (red rock crab,) popped into view amongst the gray pebbles because of its defined edge and color. Smaller than a 50 year old penny, was this crab’s back evidence of a murder or something more mysterious? Well, murder may be a bit strong. In the animal kingdom sustenance is usually the goal of taking a life, though I’m familiar with cats and killer whales that ‘play’ with their food!

Even without my magnifying glass, I can tell how this dainty crab’s back came to be on the beach. Was it mayhem or a growth spurt? Decapods such as shrimp, lobsters and crabs have a hard exoskeleton which young children, used to their own soft, supple flesh, find most disconcerting. For a crab to grow, it forms a soft, pliable but otherwise identical shell over it’s flesh inside the hard outer shell, sort of like a Bag Lady wearing two heavy coats. Then it’s time to molt because, boy it’s getting crowded in there.

Mamma crab’s big boy (or girl) secretes a fluid that dissolves the thin flap at the back (the portion facing Honest Abe) and the rest of that sharp edge facing you. Slithering backwards out of its old shell pulling its new, soft exoskeleton with it, the emerging crab looks like it just cloned itself, for now there are two crabs, one appearing lifeless, the other a fresh pink and beige scurrying for safety. To me it’s amazing how all those segments, claws, and eyeballs can be yanked out of their old confines.

I’d like to capture that process on film, but crabs are shy. No, really, they are VERY shy at this time. Because of the soft shell, they are particularly vulnerable to being uncooked crab cakes for a fish or sea bird, so they hide their bright little bodies wherever they can while the pliable shell expands to its new size for the growing crab, then it hardens. I’ll anthropomorphize by imagining it saying: “Ahhhh, that’s better! Boy that growing brings on an appetite, now, where’s that dead fish I smell? Yeah, there it is hanging inside that strange round thing that Uncle Clyde said is easy to get into, but hard to get out of. He says he went into one for lunch, munched away on a fish head, took an inexplicable ride into the ocean of air up above, got grabbed by an ugly creature with five claws, then went flying (ha, he actually said flying!) back into the sea. He was only a teenager then, and I didn’t believe a word of it!! Not, at least, until later the same thing happened to me (even the flying part!) Honest!”


One response

  1. I enjoyed the description on life of a small crab. It would take someone with a degree in marine biology to have information trivial to us, but not to the crab, to explain life’s processes!

    February 3, 2013 at 5:29 pm

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