The joy of mucking about

I thought I was not much of a beach person until a few years ago, when I realized that I actually like beaches which are long and shallow, on seas which are not dead. There are beaches which fit all these descriptions along the Gulf of Kutch near Dwarka. Due to its peculiar shape, the Gulf of Kutch has huge tides twice a day. On one of the days I was nearby, the sea level changed by 8 meters between high and low tides at the end of the Gulf. The coastal shelf is very gentle, so this allows you to walk kilometers into the sea at low tide.

At the Marine National Park near Dwarka, I went for such a walk. This is what I enjoy about beaches, being able to walk for long times at the place where the water and land meet each other. Such places around India are full of hermit crabs which have donned the shells of dead sea animals. Every shells that I saw was on the move. I’d first noticed these zombie shells in the Andamans, where I fell in love with beaches.

I made my way back to the tide line when the horizon started tilting up to the sun. The tide was beginning to turn and I was keen to get away from the slippery rocks and corals while there was still light. The long shadows of the evening threw the tracks of the hermit crabs into clear relief. They seem to be constantly on the move, foraging for food, and occasionally searching for a better shell to move in to. I thought it was a day well spent, doing little other than turning rocks over to inspect whatever is hiding below it.

Crawling cowrie!

Cowrie keeps a watch on me in Neil Island, Andaman

Not being able to get into the water during my vacation meant that I prowled the beaches with my camera prying into the private lives of every visitor. One of my interesting encounters was with a cowrie. I’ve handled these shells now and then. When I was a child, I used to like the small white ones. I saw one lying on the beach, and I moved to pick it up. Then it moved!

It scurried across the sand, pushing itself with its claws. Clearly a hermit crab had taken it over, and was animating the zombie shell. I tried to take a photo. As I moved the camera towards it, it hunkered down. The claws disappeared into the shell. I could see its eye stalks waving uncertainly (photo to the right, above). I drew back, waiting to see what it would do.

After some waiting, it decided to start moving again. Its claws came out, and it pushed itself rapidly across the sand with them. I brought my camera forward, and it scurried. The eyestalks remained on the camera, as I drew back and took the featured photo.

The defensive action of molluscs is to hunker down, and withdraw from the world. I found it interesting, that this one was curious enough to keep its eyes out.