Hermit Crab

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

hermit crab Eupagurus bernhardus and others, an eccentric creature which is edible although rarely eaten outside France. Alexandre dumas, in his Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine (1873), wrote a felicitous entry:

A species of crab whose meat is regarded as a delicious morsel. It is usually grilled in its shell before being eaten.

There is nothing more comical than this little crustacean. Nature has furnished him with armour as far as the waist—cuirass, gauntlets and visor of iron, this half of him has everything. But from the waist to the other end there is nothing, not even a nightshirt. The result of this is that the hermit crab stuffs this extremity of himself into whatever refuge he can find.

The Creator, who had begun to dress the creature as a lobster, was disturbed or distracted in the middle of the operation and finished him off as a slug. This part of the hermit crab, so poorly defended and so tempting to an enemy, is his great preoccupation; a preoccupation which can at times make him fierce. If he sees a shell which suits him, he eats the owner and takes his place while it is still warm—the history of the world in microscopic form. But since, when all is said and done, the house was not made for him, he staggers about like a drunkard instead of having the serious air of a snail.