I’m about to say something — words that I never thought would come from my mouth. Ever. It’s the stuff of whispered gossip and scribbled comments on bathroom walls.
I . . . have . . . crabs. Or rather, my lawn does.
Joe first told me about our crab infestation months ago, but I didn’t — wouldn’t — couldn’t — believe him. Sure, our lawn might not be the neatest in the neighborhood and sometimes a little overgrown, but land crabs? I’m not one to talk about the neighbors, but there are some pretty nasty lawns out there –and they’re all crab-free!
Joe eventually managed to snap a photo of a crab — from a distance — since I hadn’t seen any, but I couldn’t imagine crabs munching on our grass. The crabs had become our Big Foot, and this photo was our only proof of their existence.
Why shouldn’t I be doubtful? My previous and only lawn menace had been grubs, and a mole helped to keep that population in check. Lawn crabs, on the other hand, sounded much larger than grubs — could you imagine the size of the animal capable of keeping them in check?
There are about nine iguanas that munch their way across my backyard, but they’re vegetarian and more interested in chewing on my hairy beggarticks than my crabs. Where have all the carnivorous garden creatures gone? Perhaps, I can get a small alligator over here to tidy things up.
Nevertheless, I approached my crab situation with a smile. The idea of my lawn having crabs has more punch lines than my yard has crab holes.
Then, I turned to the Internet and land crabs became a lot more serious than I had originally considered. There were numerous forums in which users wished “good luck” to anyone dealing with a crab crisis. The suggested remedy was napalm. Isn’t there — I don’t know — a medicated lawn shampoo that I could apply?
My answers, in time, came from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website.
The Blue Land Crab, or Cardisoma guanhumi, is a semi-terrestrial crab, common in Bermuda, the Caribbean, Texas, and south Florida. This edible crab is usually found within five miles of the coast. Adult land crabs return to the ocean only to drink or breed, with peak reproductive activity occurring during the summer’s full moons. Yes, these crabs are romantic and the sea is their own singles bar.
Other than that, these vegetarians dwell on land, living in tunnels five-feet deep.
This is where the infestation can cause a problem. Although I do not currently have a garden, some day I will. Do I really want to plant a smorgasbord for crabs? I’ve also noticed the tunnel openings on the yard side of the sea wall. There is usually a debris field to the side of the hole, the stuff that the crab removed while it dug down. An ankle could certainly be twisted if one should be careless and step in a hole, but I wonder if the tunnel’s depth could be detrimental to the wall itself.
Because no chemicals — and I assume this includes napalm — are registered for land crab control, the University’s website (and law, by the way) recommends catching the crabs by hand or with a net. Due to concerns about dwindling populations, though, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has limited the land crab harvest to no more than 20 per day and to only do this during the open season, which runs from November 1 to June 30.
In other words, my window for action is closing.
As I said earlier, I’ve never seen a crab. There’s only that one photo, the tunnel openings with their debris fields, and Joe’s first-person observations — the most recent of which occurred the other day. He came into the house, quite excited, and said he just saw a crab dipping down into its tunnel.
I became vigilant. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I used a fine-toothed rake to comb my lawn for crabs, but I did do a daily examination. Several times a day, I quietly tip-toed out to the most active tunnel and peered down. Nothing.
It was at these times that my imagination and too much childhood television reminded me of the 1953 sci-fi classic, Invaders From Mars, in which a boy witnesses a UFO descending and disappearing into a sandpit near his home. As people approach the sandpit, they are sucked downward into a series of tunnels where the aliens implant mind-control crystals at the base of their skulls.
I wondered — for a second — what if it wasn’t a crab in that hole? What if it was larger? This is South Florida and things seem to be bigger here. What if it jumped out at me? What if it grabbed hold of me and dragged me into the depths of its tunnel?
In the film, the military was brought in to save the day. I don’t think I need the military — yet — but how can I catch something I’ve never seen?
And then I had my answer. A grouping of legs — very alien-like, by the way — near the tunnel opening. As I moved closer, they scurried downward.
I have seen the enemy and it is a crab. Now what do I do? Catch and release? Catch and eat? Go all medieval and pour boiling water down the hole and invite the neighbors over for a one-crab feast? Or simply hope that my crab will hear the mating call in a few weeks and head out to sea for a moonlit date?
I admit that it’s all a bit perplexing and I’m left scratching my head — or could that the result of all this crab talk?