Sometimes Catching Crabs Is A Good Thing

Hey, I’m back.  My return road trip was particularly horrid and I’m in no mood to mess around with fish today, which is a shame as the new 65g is now fully cycled and is safe to start adding livestock.  If I had the energy, I’d rush right out and purchase a pair of baby clownfish.

But I don’t, so I’m stuck with planning a cleanup crew instead.

I am tiny!  I am cute!  I am an omnivorous eating machine!

I am a blue-legged hermit crab! am tiny! I am cute! I am an omnivorous eating machine!

Why, I hear you ask, am I adding crabs and snails and shrimp but not fish?  Short answer – I haven’t dicked around with the water flow in the tank yet.  The only circulation in the 65G is what comes from the overflow that leads to the refugium and back into the tank, and this is insufficient current for most fish.  I have a stack of pumps, powerheads, and rotating current reflectors sitting on the floor next to the tank, but it will require a full afternoon sorting out which areas require exposure to certain levels of water flow and which don’t, and I have no motivation to do anything beyond eating ice cream out of the carton in my underwear.

I can, however, add the cleanup crew without doing jack poop, so that’s the plan for the day.

Some people think the rule of thumb for cleanup crew is one animal per gallon of water.  As this is a 65-gallon tank, if I followed this rule I’d be adding 65 critters to the tank.  Um… seems like a lot, don’t it?  I think so, too.  It’s not that the tank doesn’t require some heavy maintenance, as the live rock is covered – literally covered – in a thick white pasty-looking substance.  This paste is what is leftover from the cycle, as a whole lot of microscopic living things exploded into existence and departed this mortal coil almost as quickly as they came.  I’m talking millions and millions and millions of corpses, people! I am not going to remove all those dead bodies  by my lonesome!

Fortunately, Mother Nature intelligently designed a number of critters who love eating the decomposing corpses of once-living beings.  For some, the nastier and more disgusting the better… seasoned meat isn’t just for humans who enjoy a good, thick porterhouse steak.

Because I’m feeling especially lazy, I’m going to link you to an excellent and comprehensive article on cleanup crews.  The article describes the species of cleanup crew that have been proven to be reef-safe, with an emphasis on snails.  As the author notes, you want a variety of different species represented in your cleanup crew because not all species have the same diet – some species will devour the dessicated corpses of microbacteria, for example, while others will mow through nuisance algae.   I have personally had excellent success with Astraea snails, Nerite snails, Cerith snails, and Nassarius snails, and will be adding a total of mix-and-match assortment of 20 of these to the tank.

The Emerald Crab, resplended.  They look slightly less noble when eating poo.

The Emerald Crab, resplendent. Although they look slightly less noble when eating poo.

I do, however, strongly disagree with the author of that excellent article on the subject of crabs.  He’s of the Crabs Are Bad! school of thought, while I follow the Crabs Are Good! alternative.  Bad Crabbers believe that crabs are opportunistic, aggressive omnivores that will devour anything in your tank.  Good Crabbers believe that crabs are opportunistic, aggressive omnivores that will devour anything in your tank.  It’s… yeah.  It’s like that.  Simply, I think that crabs are necessary because they spend every second of every day eating, which keeps the tank close to immaculate.  They are consumption machines, and as long as you stick with the crabs that don’t eat coral polyps and are too small to take on the fish, I feel they can sort out whether they want to try a more diverse diet and eat … oh, say, each other… on their own.

However, I do have two major objections to crabs.  First, they creep me the hell out, and anyone who wants a hearty laugh should come with me to the beach and watch as I run screaming willy-nilly across the sand.

Wasn't able to photoshop a dirty white wifebeater on him, but you get the idea.

Wasn't able to photoshop a dirty white wifebeater on him, but you get the idea.

Second, hermit crabs are the rednecks of the sea.  The little buggers leave their shells everywhere, much to the dismay of the neighbors who have tried to keep their sandbed immaculate and are forced to watch as their property values decline.  They fight amongst each other over the stupidest things, like who forgot to bring the poo to Christmas dinner.  They’ll go at it like randy bunnies in public and the inbreeding is just mindboggling…. worst of all, they’ll not even notice when they abandon their newborn babies to the care of a passing clownfish.

Who then eats them.

Those oddities aside, I’ll be adding an assortment of blue-legged hermits, scarlet hermits, and emerald crabs to the new tank.  I’m thinking another 20 of these will be sufficient, leaving a total of 40 assorted critters for the first wave of cleanup crew.  I can adjust this up or down as needed, but this will certainly be enough to manage the waste products of the cycle and the introduction of the first couple of fish.

And after that comes a protein skimmer, but that’s a post for another day.

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~ by KBSpangler on April 20, 2009.

6 Responses to “Sometimes Catching Crabs Is A Good Thing”

  1. I have no salt-water aquarium experience, so this may be a stupid question – but how do you keep the snails from multiplying thousand-fold? Do salt-water snails not do that? Do you have other things that eat them? Had freshwater tanks when I was a kid – and snails were creatures of doom, since if you got one by accident, very soon all you had was a tank full of snails…

    • Marine snails reproduce at the same rate as freshwater snails but almost all of the eggs are eaten by the coral or by the other members of the cleanup crew, and the very rare snail babies that do live generally replace the snails that die of old age or salinity problems. Snails are surprisingly fragile.

    • I can’t remember our snails ever multiplying out of control, but we tended toward pond tanks– we once got big escargot snails for the goldfish tank, but the crayfish pulled them off the walls and ate them. Then the kid we had asked to feed the fish (singular) over vacation didn’t, and we came back to one single crayfish claw on the bottom of the tank.

      Do not annoy the goldfish.

      • Well, our tank was about 26 gallons, and home mostly to tetras and swordtails. There were no big fish, and no non-fish except the accidental snails.

  2. I’m not going to, I’m not going to, I’m … oh, hell.

    I have no motivation to do anything beyond eating ice cream out of the carton in my underwear.

    What was the carton doing in your underwear?

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