Land hermit crabs are more easily heard than seen, for these supralittoral wanderers seldom bother to hide their tracks, shuffling as they do and clicking their heels against the debris of the high shore with little regard for aural sensitivities. They abhor seafronts that have been pick over and rendered plain for the sake of visitors who regard every speck and spot on the sand as well as unruly grasses as blights on a landscape awash in green delusions. It's a shame, for these anomurans gladly labour without recompense to cleanse the waste of coastal life, including perhaps the droppings of unretentive beach apes, leaving the inorganic portions to the mercies of gloved crews.
A stern breakwater now links Lazarus Island to St John's, stifling a passage of fringing reefs abutting a rocky strand. Overlooking the shore is a ridge of Callophyllum, sea almonds, pandans and figs, whose terminal buds and tough husks litter the gravel below. Pied songbirds and sea eagles erupt from the canopy long before sunrise. Where the embankment meets the hill, there is a nook into which the tides have shoved a midden of jetsam. The debris is a magnet to hermit crabs of rare bulk, which clamber over foam and foliage and even brave the lower reaches of the seawall in their nocturnal scurry. Some lug the remains of nerites and turban snails, while not a few individuals are at home in lightweight imports. When picked up, some stretch out in a frantic grasp at damp air or even bail out, ditching their shelters for a flight of naked panic. But most just scoot into their coils, sealing the aperture with a stout claw and betraying their impatience by peering out within a minute and resuming, if the coast appears clear, their seedy patrols.
Such armies now thrive only on islands with little afoot, where food abounds and the sea laps at the base of lowland woods. Where these conditions are met, hermit crabs can rival their landlocked cousins in numbers and vie with earthbound arthropods for choice spots on low trees. Large concentrations of small coenobites can be found thus in the littoral forest of Tangkoko Duasaudara Nature Reserve in North Sulawesi, where a thin corner of the peninsula has been preserved for the natives of a fiery region. Fuelled perhaps by the ash of nearby volcanos, Terminalia, Barringtonia and Morinda attain monumental proportions in a strip of land between a stained beach and volatile slopes.
The darkened soil is coated by layers of bark, leaves and fruit, which support troops of black crested macaques as well as shy terrestrial crabs that forage for vegetation and carrion. Coenobita occurs here in disturbing densities, forcing those who wander off the path to watch their step lest heavy boots deliver a crack of doom. A few are so well-built they tread on the ground with little fear, but their undersized compatriots often cling en masse to sturdy saplings, creating the impression of a house plant infected by festive baubles. Others grip the trunks of more mature trees or dawdle near recesses that may serve as daytime retreats. A partial diet of scale insects is said to drive this rhythm, but others have caught no rhyme to this restless spirit, which has led to accusations of truancy that bounce off the hermits as they laze on the stems of tropical lianas or wing it on dangling vines. Encouraged by the onset of indiscreet hours, a few engage in conversations that waver between conflict and resolution, their antennules twitching with trepidation as fingers touch and feelings are exchanged via olfactory clues. But the signals are mixed and any semblance of pillow talk in this cinq à sept is soon quashed by the awkwardness of a tryst that spells surrender to the moon and spawns a rush to the sea for a moment of release in the dip end.