Hermit Crabs are all around – occasionally (sadly and unavoidably) underfoot. They borrow an empty shell, and as they grow they trade up to a bigger one, leaving their previous home for a smaller crab to move into. It’s a benign chain of recycling that the original gastropod occupant would no doubt approve of… The crabs are able to adapt their flexible bodies to their chosen shell. In the 1st 2 images the crab has chosen a somewhat weathered shell, into which he fits snugly

This small crab has gone for something more modern – possibly quite an awkward shape to lug about…

These crabs have found the Delphi Club bird feeders and taken up residence close by. They forage in the grass, many wearing West Indian top shells. One seems to want to climb the tree to get at the feeder…

They are sensitive to sound: approaching footfalls send them scurrying for shelter into the undergrowth or to holes in the limestone rock. They don’t all manage to fit into a hole so the ‘outsiders’ try to look inconspicuous by withdrawing into their shells, though from a predator’s point of view there are usually a couple of telltale legs sticking out…

Quick, everyone – hide! A human just trod on Derek…An entertaining after-dinner game (and I blame Caroline Stahala for starting this one) is hermit crab racing. Please note that no crabs are harmed in the course of these sporting proceedings, though some crabs may feel a little humiliated. The races can be played for money, of course, but the complete unpredictability and lack of any information about a crab’s previous racing form make that unwise. Far better to have a few drinks first. Then some more afterwards. 


  • Dinner is to be completed and drink taken by all participants before racing can commence
  • Each contestant chooses a crab from the group under the bird feeders
  • All chosen crabs are placed in a dish

  • Caroline (or whomsoever shall be designated) paints the shells with each contestant’s name

  • The crabs are lined up by hand on the verandah as straight as they will permit (so, not very)
  • The starter will say “Ready, Steady, GO”, and the crabs are released over a 3 meter course
  • The winner shall be the first crab over the finishing line. In the event of a dead-heat, the crab requiring the least foot-impetus and direction correction is declared winner
  • The crabs shall be returned to the collection site (those that can still be found) and all humans shall return to the Clubhouse for celebrations…


This crab (the largest) was chosen by Sandy Walker, and regrettably was the only one that started by going backwards. It was never in serious contention

Caroline becomes very overexcited by her crab’s progress

Others resort to unorthodox methods like ‘foot-persuasion’ to keep their crab on course. RH didn’t realise this was allowed at all, and watched his crab dive pathetically off the edge of the verandah into the flowerbed – an irrecoverable drop of 6 inches

Most of the crabs went forwards as intended, though with a certain amount of lateral movement. 2 or 3 seemed to have got the general idea of the race and proceeded more or less according to plan

The impressive winner, by nearly half a minute, was the crab named ‘Emma’. A well-deserved victory, especially as the owner / trainer’s foot-directing was minimal (bare feet!)…

The one thing I would like to know about these little creatures is how they – and their shells – are to be found in large numbers 50 foot above sea-level at the top of a cliff…


  1. It’s really bad for crabs to have paint on their shells! It can poison them when it chips off. They climb on each other a lot, so the crabs will come in contact with the paint…


    • I appreciate your concerns Eric, and point taken. Rest assured that the paint used was non-oil-based and non-toxic. It will have washed off in the next rain (or under a sprinkler). Actually, the post is a few years old; the snail races are a thing of the past anyway. Still, what you say holds good as a principle: no invasive or potentially damaging interference with any creature. RH


  2. Oh, for the first race (after a chance to observe the crabs), betting order goes from youngest to eldest observer. Then in each subsequent race, people bet in reverse of their approximate finish order from the previous race. This keeps it fair, and no one is ever ‘stuck’ with a slow crab. If one crab wins too many races, we disqualify him/her and let them go early (for ‘suspected performance enhancing substance abuse’ 😉 to cheers from the gallery). Maybe I should come by and call a crab race for you some day, or have you come to Crabhill Downs to see how it’s been done since folks raced crabs in ancient Mesopotamia? 😉


    • This adds a whole layer of complexity, and the risk of verbal or physical abuse following disqualification that cannot be taken. That could only lead to a lifetime ban from the club and bad feelings all round. The more I re-read your rules, the more I am certain that we should stick to racing in a manner that 5-year olds would understand and enjoy! RH


  3. You guys are doing it all wrong ;-). No seriously, we’ve been running “Crrrrrrab Rrrrrraces!” for 10 years @ Beach Haven, in BPS. We collect 30-50 crabs from our lot on race day, separated into 3+ size classes. As “Post time” approaches, we gently dry each crab’s shell off and number them with tropical pastel sharpies. A key difference is our track – “Crabhill Downs” (with appropriate signage). The track is made in the sand off of our deck (so that a gallery full of people above can observe Crabhill Downs from their chairs or rails and cheer their choice(s) on). A piece of twine is tied to a rod in the center, and concentric circles of increasing diameter are made, then the rod removed. The crabs (typically 10 per race) are released at once in the center. First crab to exit the outer circle wins (and of course there are ample photos & video taken in the event of a ‘photo finish’. This way, direction doesn’t matter so much, only speed. I’ve seen hotels do this with circles painted on concrete. We typically run 2 races per size class, with the 5th or 6th race being the “daily double”, and then a 7th, final race with ALL crabs at once. The track usually has to be refreshed every 4th race or so. We maintain a “used shell lot for contended crabs”, which we restock with fresh turbine shells regularly (and have a number of videos of them exchanging shells!). No crabs are harmed of course, and they are allowed to continue their course & resume their normal routines after the 7th race. Of course an amusing sight is finding a crab coming down the sidewalk with a magenta “3” or a purple “7”, etc on it, blocks away, or an empty shell of former winners in our used shell lot :-). Of course, having been a winning crab race better in Jamaica, and a crab race pit master for years, I can write a book on how to ‘handicap’ hermit crabs and pick which are most likely to win 🙂 Let the fun continue!


    • Well thanks for such a very detailed account of the proper race rules, Jack. I imagine the whole event must take a couple of days or so? I shall copy your authoritative rules onto a card and laminate it to be hung by the race course (aka verandah)! However to be frank, our rules have to be kept very simple and the races short: they occur after dinner and not every race-snail owner is necessarily able to deal with a lot of detail by then…! We have to have a designated pit master who abstains from strong drink for 24 hours before race evening. RH


      • Actually our process is very simple. It takes much less time to collect & simply # with a sharpie than I am guessing it would to “paint” names (and then dry?). Seven races take about 35 minutes in total, leaving guests cheering for more and ‘when’s the next date?’.

        By using circles, it’s quite easy to keep track of order, without the need to redirect (or risk any pinched shoes, guests … or crab abuse 😉 ). Of course the honor system is fine beyond “Win”, “Place” and “Show” order. And kids understand it so well they typically win the most. A tiny piece of paper is all that is needed to track everything (even if the ringmaster doesn’t abstain 😉 ).

        The DQ does not invalidate any wins. The DQ is announced when picking crabs for the next race, to keep things fun and fair when one crab is a ‘ringer’. Quite the opposite of your impression for abuse, bad feelings, or complexity. “We mock what we don’t understand.” 🙂 – Enjoy! JB



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