Be The Home You’re From

Way back in the sloth post, I said that the more stable an ecosystem, the more animals would be able to host other animals on them and become microcosms of their world. With that in mind, this is the decorator crab:

And so is this.

And so is this.

And so is this.

And so is this.

The decorator crab, a small crab with delicate, forceps-like pincers, snips plants and animals and flotsam from his home and glues them with a mouth-secreted adhesive to his shell, gaining perfect camouflage by turning himself into a living collage. If you look at the crabs above you will see live anemones, barnacles, sponges, kelp, mollusks, and coral. He is a garden version of his wilderness home; he doesn’t just use his surroundings, he becomes his surroundings, a moving piece of habitat. The brilliant thing is that, unlike other species with expert camouflage, his is adaptable; if his environment radically changes around him, or if he moves from a patch of green kelp to a patch of pink anemones, all he needs to do is pry off the kelp and plug in the anemones.

Of course, there are many species of decorator crabs: some specialize in kelp or sponges or whatever, and some are generalists who use velcro-like shells for quick costume changes. And given the great range of sizes in decorator crabs, I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the world there were a large decorator crab hosting polyps, seaweed, sponges… and a smaller decorator crab camouflaged to blend in to his host’s miniature landscape. Nature is so meta.

There are downsides. For example, what happens when your reef becomes polluted? Just as there are reports of hermit crabs living in beer cans, there have been reports of decorator crabs who’ve glued six-pack rings and cigarette packs to their carapaces because, well, if they didn’t pollute themselves, they wouldn’t blend in to their surroundings. When you become where you are, you have to become ugly when you where you live gets ugly.


About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

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