In my last post, I mentioned the hermit crabs of St. Croix. They are not only interesting wildlife, but can be used for entertainment. This is a tradition dating back centuries, which has seen a resurgence of interest in some places. My family has gone to the hermit crab races since we started visiting the island in 2001.
Tito and Sue are a husband and wife team who have been organizing hermit crab races on St. Croix for almost 20 years. They go to several different venues each week, usually bars and restaurants, where they can draw some chalk circles on the floor. For $2 you can choose and name a crab; the name is written on a piece of tape on its shell. Our family tends to use many of the same names each time, such as "Crusher", "Grave digger", and "Widow maker". Many local businesses donate prizes such as boat trips, island tours, and bottles of rum.
For each race, the crabs are placed underneath buckets in the center circle. After a kazoo start and the cry of "CHARGE!", the crabs are released, which then mosey on towards the finish line.
There are some very important rules, which are: "Don't point your fingers, don't stomp your feet!", as these can scare the crabs. Tito always brings a roll of tape, and will tape up anyone's hands if they start pointing. The culprits are almost always adults, the children are quite well behaved. One man got completely taped to a pole!
More after the jump
The top two crabs from the first four races go on to the final race, which has the best prizes. Then there are three or four "drink races", the prizes usually being a bar tab or a bottle of rum. This last visit, my father's crab "Grave digger" won us a free round of miniature golf, but we could not use it in time before the end of our trip.
As for the crabs themselves - they are only raced for two weeks at a time, and are released back into the wild. Tito and Sue keep and feed many of them in their own backyard, ensuring they are the happiest and healthiest crabs they can be. People are also allowed to bring their own crabs they have found, but still need to pay the $2 entry fee. As far as I can tell, the only harm to the crabs is a bit of crowding and annoyance - the whole spectacle only takes one hour. And it raises awareness not only of the crabs themselves and their importance on this island, but it's great advertisement for local businesses, many of which we would not have discovered on our own.
"Don't worry if the crabs get close, they don't eat very much" - Tito