How Humans are Like Hermit Crabs

The socialization of the terrestrial hermit crab and how it relates to success

Posted Oct 31, 2012

Did you know that terrestrial hermit crabs socialize with each other?

According to a recent study at the University of California at Berkeley, researchers discovered that hermit crabs congregate together, not for protection or mating, but to trade their shell in hopes of finding a roomier one. The crabs all line up in a row, from smallest to largest, with each crab grabbing ahold of the one in front of it. They then go at it – trying to uproot each other from their homes with the goal of moving into better real estate, which in hermit crab terms, is a larger shell.

Not surprisingly, the hermit crabs left with the smallest shells, are left the most vulnerable to predators, and consequently, the worst off in this trade war. 

When I first read this headline, my immediate thought was: Why hermit crabs are socializing with other crabs in the first place? Hermit crabs are supposed to be hermits, right?

Turns out terrestrial hermit crabs or land hermit crabs face a shortage of snail shells, while ocean crabs enjoy an abundance of them, which is why land crabs have evolved in this new and unexpected way.

This behavior makes me think of our own tentative human nature. Often times, we convince ourselves that things can be only one way. There is one definition of right, and conversely, only one definition of wrong.

But as the land hermit crabs have proven, there is no singular path. We are evolving at every moment. Sometimes, it takes longer to see the effects or experience the repercussions, but we are indeed changing.

I was thinking about these hermit crabs when I heard a recent radio clip, where an expert said that young people are not as concerned about money and getting rich as they are about changing the world. Of course, we want well paying jobs – but we also want one that provides meaning and makes us feel good about what we are doing. If we had to choose, many of us would (and do) pick the latter.

I’ve met and read about countless people who have left high paying corporate careers so they could pursue something that they were passionate about or where they felt they could make a real difference.

Like the land hermit crabs, these are people who are behaving in a different way, while learning to adapt and evolve in their current environment

Terrestrial hermit crabs teach us that we too can defy traditions, inculcations, and even our biology – in fact, sometimes, this defiance can lead to thriving and success.

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