My name is Patty my two sons and I own the Sea Shell Shops in Rehoboth Beach, DE. My parents started the Sea Shell Shops in 1953 in Ft. Lauderdale and also in OC, MD and then when I grew up my husband and I started the same type of business in 1979 in DE. My Dad was by most accounts the first to sell hermit crabs in the US. In the 50’s when I was very young we use to go and collect them on Peanut Island off of West Palm Beach, FL. I believe we stared selling them in 1953 or 1954. Many of the people selling hermits wholesale today were put partly in business by my Dad including FMR. My Dad couldn’t collect enough so they started collecting for him as they were doing research all along the islands edges in the Caribbean. Back then FRM (a company) was a research lab struggling. My Dad suggested to Mr. Moore the owner at the time, to collect hermits since he visited many of the Caribbean Islands for his research as this could supplemented their income for research. (I don’t think I really ever knew what they researched exactly?) Anyway that was the beginning of FRM (a company) who later became a full time hermit dealer when sold to the present owner. Another man, Harry Ackers, who lived in West Palm also collected for my Dad before the US law not to collect was passed. My Dad met him through John Root (famous by our account) shell clam polisher who had been in the wholesale shell business since 1944. We bought hermits from Harry until the early 80’s, when he retired. I could go on and on. Note: Today you are not allowed to collect hermits in the USA but they still do exist in the Florida Keys.
My Dad was the first to invent the wire cage. We were selling hermits in boxes & plastic cups only back then. He went to Maxwell House in the 50’s and found just the right size lids (number 7). I remember a tractor trailer truck coming once or twice a year filled with lids from a Maxwell plant. Maxwell gave him an award in the 60’s for the most unusual use of their product. He then found Hardware cloth from Baltimore and put cages together with pig hooks. (We still have pig hook tools and lids, just in case). We made all our own cages back then. We couldn’t keep up so my Dad had a friend who was looking for projects for his challenged clients from a Rehabilitation center in Maryland. My Dad set them up making cages. He later went to several other Rehabilitation centers and suggested they put the cages together. For years he had several centers both in Florida and in Maryland making cages. He also set up a gentleman I believe in Indiana, Mr. Kennett making wire cages because the business grew so fast and there just wasn’t enough cages in the 80’s. He already was making cages for fish and minnows so he knew some of the sources to make the cages. My Dad shared the product source information with many other hermit dealers especially those selling hermits wholesale, like Mr. Stetson, so the cage manufacture centers could make a good living supporting their clients. When the plastic cage became popular from the pet industry and then were mass produced overseas the wire cage wasn’t used as often. That ended the wire cage business for the most part. This happened after my Dad’s passing. We still sell wire cages as a transportation home for hermits, and a climber inside an aquarium, but recommend a cage with sides to hold in moisture and heat during the winter months.
The sponge has always been around in shell shops but never used by hermit dealers. One day during the summer of 1980 one of our employees who loved to decorate the hermit cage in themes added little sponges cut up in the shape of balls. She called them Nerf balls as they were all the rage back then. We notice hermits carrying them around and wetting them in their water dishes. We started selling them immediately as hermit Nerf balls. We bought so many sponges that are favorite shell dealer, Mr. Stetson noticed. He then started selling them to every hermit store he dealt with up and down the East coast in the 80’s. You could say that became a popular item. Of course no one cut them like we did into ball shapes but the sponge for hermits was born. (We don’t cut them any more either).
Once in awhile you’ll hear a rumor that hermits spread salmonella or other diseases. I have never in all my years, since I was 3 been sick or heard of anyone else getting sick from handling a hermit crab. I’ve been handling 1,000’s & 1,000’s at a time and I’m still alive and well. Hermits are very safe for children. There is no evidence they carry or spread any type of diseases.
Just thought you might want to know a little of our history, and history of the hermit crab.