July 30, 2020

Today is 20 days since the mating between Gunther (the mom) and Monica (the dad) and still no spawn. If Gunther spawns well before August 8th, we will know eggs don’t need an entire month to mature. We felt like Gunther was close to spawning because her eggs looked mature. Freshly fertilized eggs are bight orange in color, matured eggs are grey and you can see the black eyes of the zoeae (baby hermit crabs).

We saw some interesting behavior today with Monica and Gunther. They both went to the ramp (that is in the salt water pool) together. About two hours later, Monica began to hold down Gunther. We separated them right away (we weren’t sure if it was aggressive) and Monica immediately went back on top of her. Gunther did move around a bit like she was uncomfortable, but Monica didn’t do anything to hurt her. We think he may be preventing her from doing something he doesn’t want her to do; such as; spawning during the day, spawning on the sand, or something else. Now, a couple of hours later, Monica is still on top of Gunther! We are recording to see if this is guarding behavior scientists don’t believe is possible for hermit crabs. We will stay up tonight to watch for a spawn.

July 31, 2020: Before the Spawn

Our male Strawberry; Estelle (I know…. our names do not match genders anymore lol) lunged at Monica and Gunther who were still attached at the hip for 3 hours after the spawn. Monica, while holding and protecting Gunther spread his legs out to fight Estelle. At one point the fight got too crazy and Gunther made a run for safety. She went to the opposite end of the tank as high as she could to get to safety. This opened up Monica to further fight off the strawberry who was trying to get to the couple. 
From this behavior, we are fairly certain tonight is the night for spawning. Estelle probably wanted to eat the fresh eggs that are ready, due to a smell. So, we assume Monica knew to guard Gunther to protect her precious eggs before they could be spawned. You guys, our hearts were racing so much while watching. It was truly an amazing sight! We felt like National Geographic scientists recording an amazing event!
Also; we did separate Estelle from the parents into a different tank. We do not need a disaster! Again, we were watching the entire time to make sure nothing bad happened and that our crabs stayed safe. But, part of what we are doing with this project is observing the behavior of hermit crabs. I can assure you, no harm was done to any of the crabs involved. *Do not do this with your crabs. We recommend splitting up aggressive hermit crabs!*
Edit: It’s 11 at night and our Ruggie began to attack Gunther as well. Because he is smaller, we transferred him to a new tank before the fight began. We didn’t want him, or any other crab to get hurt. We are going to be watching all night to make sure no more fights break out. Either her eggs are ready, or they are past due and the crabs really want to eat them. Hopefully it’s not the latter. We will see.

July 31, 2020: Spawn Day/ Babies Birthday!

Due to the behavior Gunther was displaying (see previous 2 posts for that info) we just knew that July 31 was going to be it! We were going to have baby crabs that day. So, we stayed up all night…. or most of the night to watch Gunther.
Monica (the dad) stayed on top of Gunther for several hours, the guarding began around 5pm and nothing that night happened until around 11:30 pm. The two crabs would move together, kind of like they were a part of a 3 legged race. It was really cool to see them work together to get where they needed to go.
11:30 pm: Monica and Gunther began to climb up the ladder to the taller salt water pool. Monica then fell off of Gunther to the ground below (See Video 1A and 1B) which set in motion, a bunch of events. Gunther began to climb to the highest point in the tank to get away from all other crabs. Our topper is above this pool so she climbed up there. Monica searched frantically around the tank looking for Gunther, but he struggled to find her While Monica searched, Gunther made laps around the topper, down to the pool and back several times. This went on until 1 am.
1:07 am: Gunther and Monica Finally found each other. Monica pushed Gunther into the Salt water pool and held her under. (Video 2A and 2B) It was not graceful. They were right on top of the bubbler and so it looked like they were struggling as seen in the video. They never made it to the bottom of the water pool and were only in there for 10 minutes at the most. Then, both crabs left the pool. (Video at the end of video 2B) We decided to see if she had spawned at all, but it was so dark in there… we couldn’t tell if there were any Zoeoa being spawned into the pool. There didn’t appear to be any.
The crabs then stayed in the same spot together for almost an hour before moving underneath a log hide.
2:10 am: Since she had already been in the water and climbed out, we were concerned they decided to ditch and go spawn on the sand. So we removed the hide and also moved the pair to the ramp in the pool, but not in the water to see what they would do. Monica got angry at us, you can see him stand straight up staring at us. (Video 3) I think we made him mad or scared but we had to keep them in sight. These babies are so perfectly timed before school starts we couldn’t lose this chance.
2:33 am: Monica and Gunther get into the shallow pool. (Video 4). Then climbed out shortly after. Because they had gone into salt water twice and we saw no babies, we thought the eggs weren’t ready to hatch yet. Especially since it was only 20 days after mating and everywhere we researched, it said a month or about 28 days for the eggs to mature. However, we were confused since all of their behavior indicated that their eggs were ready. We thought Monica was protecting Gunther because the eggs were attracting other crabs to them. But, we just decided to stop for the night at around 3:30 am. Nothing else was happening. Monica and Gunther stayed in the same spot for almost an hour after climbing out of the pool.

11 am: The next morning

Darcy went to check on the crabs. She took a really good look into the pool and realized that there were Zoeae in there! However…. not that many. We realized a few must have hatched during their time in the water, but they never finished. So, we picked them up and put them in the pool. In hindsight, we should have picked a cleaner tub to do this in. The salt water pool was dirty (even though it was cleaned 2 days before) from the crabs going in at night. Anyway, we put them in the water and they began to spawn the babies. Monica held Gunther down the entire time, helping out. We live streamed it so if you want to see the entire process, it’s there (Go to the LHCOS Facebook Group and search #journey2land). It was so cool to witness! We also have it all on video with our professional camera which will go on our YouTube channel at some point. The rest of the pictures and videos are from the spawning, so anything not labeled is from that.
The babies are now in the Krisel and we begin the daily water changes. We had some eggs that didn’t hatch, not sure what happened there. You can see the eggs with eyes but they just didn’t hatch. We also have very few zoeae for some reason. It doesn’t seem like the thousands we are supposed to have. We don’t have a count but we don’t think we have even one thousand. Either not all of the eggs hatched or Gunther didn’t spawn all of them in the water and spawned some on the sand. We did a very thorough job looking through the jars the pool water was siphoned into before the babies were added to the Krisel. There were 5 full jars of water and each one had maybe 20-30 zoeae in it until the last one which had a lot more. At this point we’d be surprised with 500. We went through the jars twice to make sure there weren’t any zoeae left. We’d finish a jar, dump it in a small bucket and then at the end went back through it again.

August 2-3: (Days 2-3)

What a whirl wind of a couple days! So many emotions!!! We are thrilled that Gunther spawned in the salt water giving us the opportunity to raise her babies.
Moving the zoeae from the spawn pool into the kriesels was taxing and very time consuming (about 4 hours). We couldn’t remove all the debris at risk of missing some zoeae. That meant the first water change, the next morning at 8:00a.m., was also long and taxing (about 3 hours).
The zoeae are looking good (as far as we know). They stay in the current most of the time making cute little somersaults. Periodically they bob off the side or bottom of the kriesel to do what looks like eating. There are no words to explain the microscopic size and translucent color of these amazing creatures. They are very difficult to see!
A few observations:
1. Gunther did not spawn very many zoeae, we are estimating maybe 500. I can’t decide if I should be disappointed or grateful 🤔
2. We second guess ourselves constantly regarding how much to feed.
3. NOTHING can prepare you for the size of these zoeae. Nothing.
4. It’s an emotional roller-coaster.
5. I may have teared up a couple times already at these miracles. Its finally sinking in that we have this opportunity.
6. LHCOS is an AMAZING community of support that I am ever so grateful for!

7. Mary Akers and Stacy B. Have been so much help, we can’t ever thank them enough!

Some positive changes we made to cut down on water change time.
1. Bigger glass jars! Better viewing surface and bigger opening to work within.
2. A separate work surface next to the kriesel is so helpful.
3. When you have 3 people working together on this project…. use them wisely! We went out and bought an additional set of siphoning/pipette equipment so that we can have 2 stations going at the same time. Our last water change, feeding, refill of holding tank, and clean up took only an hour and a half!!!
In other news…. Gunther is gravid… again! As soon as she spawned, Monica and Gunther mated again. Now, a couple of days later, we can see her eggs. Looks like we will have two chances this summer to try and get these babies to land! We are so excited. Luckily, these babies will be transitioned to land already by the time Gunther will spawn this second clutch. So, we won’t have to care for two sets of different aged zoeae at the same time.
Doing these changes is not easy. It is not possible to truly understand the amount of work it takes to keep these guys alive. That’s why there has been such little success (outside of the magical Mary Akers), they are so fragile and its hard to know what they need, and if the water is healthy for them. We hope that we are doing the right thing, but we also are entering new territory with this species. No one has been successful at this point with getting Ecuadorian’s to land. So, there is going to be a lot to learn. Hopefully we can do it! Realistically, we know that getting zoeae to land on the first try is a low chance. We are just going to do our very best. 

August 4, 2020: Day 4

Hermit crab Babies are still doing good! Like we said, our numbers are really low. We were able to count in one of our Krisels and we think that one has about 200. The other one has a lot more between double and triple…. so we think our total is somewhere between 400-500. We may move some over to the Krisel with less babies in it but right now it’s working for us.
We haven’t noticed really any deaths so far except for 4 that we saw while doing water changes. There could be more dead floating around but most of them seem to still be alive thankfully. It’s really hard to tell if the numbers are going down or not. Sometimes we look in the Krisel with the lower numbers and think they’ve all disappeared but they’re just camouflaging well.
We haven’t gotten to the first shed day yet, so we will tackle that when we get there.
The babies like to go to the bottom and eat the calcium that has sunk to the bottom of the Krisels from the reef crystals.
When doing a water change, some swim away from our pipettes and some we think play dead on the bottom of the jar, or just stay still.
Water changes take us about an hour right now, with two people working it goes pretty fast. Not many babies get sucked in with so much space to move around.
Because there are so few, they aren’t in concentrated groups so getting videos and pictures has been really difficult.
So far so good! There really hasn’t been much to update on. If something happens we will post more!

August 5,2020: Day 5

Today was a rollercoaster. We noticed the babies all sitting at the bottom of the Krisel even with the bubbler on and we thought they were dead. We were so frustrated. We were about to give up and empty the Krisels and call it a failed attempt. When we say it’s an emotional roller coaster…. it really is.
We had something come up so we didn’t get home for the evening water change until around 8:30 and didn’t really start until 9. Since we thought they were all dead, we had to suck them out of the water so it wouldn’t become toxic. We got almost all of the babies.
We then took each one at a time in our pipette and watched them to see if they’d move. Which would have worked if they moved within seconds of us looking at them in the pipette. Turns out, they just like to play dead. They can sit still for over a minute. Each one we thought was dead we put in a recheck jar. Then, Faith looked at the “dead” ones in the recheck jar for a long time to make 100% sure we weren’t going to throw out dead babies. Good thing we did that because they were all alive thankfully! We think they were being sluggish from shed day (or what we thought was shed day. These guys are so small, we never actually saw any sheds. After this attempt, we learned that Ecuadorian zoeae is a lot smaller than other zoeae). We did decide to count all of the babies we had and counted 188 in Krisel 1 and 122 in Krisel 2 for a counted total of 310 babies for sure. We know there are more because we didn’t get all of them in the siphon. So, our estimate is around 400. Our initial estimate of 500 wasn’t too far off, we hadn’t counted both Krisels at that point.
The water change started at 9pm and we finally finished at 12 midnight. It was very exhausting. But thankfully, the babies are all ok! We still have very minimal deaths with only about 5 confirmed deaths.
The babies are now in stage 2 we are pretty sure. We didn’t notice any babies getting stuck in sheds dying. We think it’s because we gave them more calcium by adding cuttlebone into the water. 
The babies like to eat off the bottom of the Krisel, so we have been turning down the bubblers for 20 minutes after a feed to let them eat.
Because the babies were being sluggish, we increased the temperature from 80 to 82F and also decreased the salinity from 35-32 to match similar to what Mary’s Mysteriosa babies liked.
We also decided to gutload (feed) the live Artemia with Marine Snow to make them healthier for the babies. We aren’t sure if it did anything, but it’s worth doing it just in case it helps the zoeae. 

August 6, 2020: Day 6

There was more activity today! They were swimming and moving around much more compared to yesterday which was a relief. However, some of the babies are still sitting at the bottom of the Krisel. This is so strange because from what we have heard of other species, they don’t usually do this!  They are supposed to float in a circular motion around the current, but these guys  just sit at the bottom. We aren’t sure how they’re strong enough to sit at the bottom, the current is pretty strong. Hopefully it’s just a species difference and not a problem with our care.

Today’s water changes didn’t take too long. The one in the evening only took an hour and a half which was helpful. The babies also look bigger and more defined today! They must have shed like we thought yesterday. We may have not seen the sheds floating around in the water if they dissolved. That’s really all for today!  

August 7,2020: Day 7

Today seems to be another shed day because the zoeae looks more sluggish on the bottom of the Krisel. We did a 50% water change at 12 in the afternoon, about four hours later than normal due to a scheduling conflict. A few hours after the first water change of the day (we do two daily), we noticed the zoeae were acting in the same worrying way they did on Day 5.

We logged some of the characteristics to look for on what we thought was shed day (we still saw no sheds in the water):

  • Low Activity 
  • Sitting on the bottom
  • Zoeae look almost “fuzzy” and more transparent 
  • Slower to move and respond in the pipette 

Again we found ourselves discouraged, unsure if this was normal for a shed day or if our water wasn’t clean enough. You find yourself questioning everything you’re doing because you’ve never done it before! When you spend so much time and energy on these creatures, you really start to love them and it isn’t easy to be unsure if they’re going to make it or not.

August 8-9, 2020: Day 8-9  

Well, it’s day 9 of our journey and things have taken a drastic turn. During the night of August 7th and into yesterday morning (Aug. 8), the zoeae began to transition into larval stage 3. It has become very apparent that transforming from one larval stage to the next is quite difficult on these little guys. When we updated you after the transition into larval stage 2, just four days ago, we had an estimated head count of 400. From the studies we have read and the very experienced mentors helping us, loss during/after shed day is normal. However, when starting with such a small spawn, it makes these losses incredibly noticeable and very discouraging.
We noticed during the first shed and again during the second, that the zoeae tend to gravitate to the bottom of the kriesel. We have now learned – DON’T LET THEM DO THAT! By stage 3 they have cute little feathery legs and they can grab hold of things. This allowed them to grab their sibbling and, sadly, cannibalize eachother 😔.
As soon as we realized this was occurring yesterday, we added a second air stone to help keep these little fellas moving….. away from one another! But, much damage had already been done.
This morning we decided it would be the best use of our time and resources to combine all survivors into one kriesel. We emptied kriesel two completely and moved the zoeae into kriesel one. We counted only 25 survivors from kriesel two.
As we did our routine 50% water change in the remaining kriesel (one), we did a “head count” as well. Note: we were not intentionally trying to capture the babies in kriesel one, but we weren’t trying to avoid them either. We counted 28 zoeae during the water change. So…. we think we have about 100 zoeae left (now mostly in larval stage 3) to try and bring to land.
We are not giving up! We will keep doing the steps, taking the notes, doing the research, learning from our mentors, loving these zoeae, and preparing for future attempts!
As always, thank YOU for all the love, support, and encouragement during this roller-coaster of a ride! We will update you in a couple days!

August 10, 2020: Day 10

Today we have both disappointing and exciting news to talk about.
1. Disappointing News – unfortunately our first attempt has come to a close. While this attempt is in fact considered a failure, we are trying to look at it through a positive lense. Failing is a step toward success! We have learned a lot through this process, we have developed theories, gained experience, and confidence. We will make adjustments, just as all good scientist do, and try again in hopes to further our attempt. While it is humbling to have to admit to failure, it is necessary for progress.
2. Exciting News – We will not have to wait long for a second…. and perhaps even third, attempt! Gunther is currently 10-12 days away from spawning her second clutch. Today, we confirmed that Rachel is in fact also carrying eggs! We hope to put into practice some of our adjustments and bring some of these precious Ecuadorian crabbies to land!

Closing Thoughts

Well, we are really sad and disappointed that our zoeae didn’t make it past day 9. There must be some difference in the anatomy of the zoeae that cause them to eat each other at this stage, especially while sitting on the bottom. We thought we had around 100 babies on day 9. By the time we went to do our water change on day 10, there were no babies to be seen. We never would have thought the numbers could decrease so exponentially overnight.
This experience has really opened our eyes to the wonders of the captive bred hermit crab world. We never realized how taxing it is to care for the almost- microscopic zoeae. They were so small our cameras could barley pick them up.
We spent hours checking through waste water each day to make sure no zoeae got missed. We would put the dirty water in a clear jar and then search through the water and debris to find them. When we found one, we sucked it up into a pipette and put it back in the Krisel. We had to do this in the dark, holding a flashlight above the jars because they are transparent. We fed several times a day and spent hours watching the zoeae and making sure they were okay. It really gets into your head when you aren’t sure if what you’re doing is right. No matter how disappointing it is to fail, we do know that we are making leaps and bounds for the community and learning things that have yet to be learned. We are never going to give up, and we hope that our next clutch is more successful!