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What are mollusks? This category includes limpets, mussels, clams, oysters, octopi, scallops, squids, gastropods, chitons, and other things.

The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia defines "chiton" as follows: "KITE-en; any of various marine mollusks of the class 'amphineyra,' living on rocks and having shells consisting of 8 overlapping, transverse plates." I'll bet your mom doesn't know what a chiton is!

When I saw that limpets, mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops are mollusks, I assumed that a shell is required in order to belong to the phylum Mollusca. Wrong. Octopi do not have shells, nor do squids or hermit crabs. Mr. Webster says, "Mostly aquatic, mollusks have usually soft, unsegmented bodies enclosed in a shell; in some forms the shell is internal, and in a few it is absent. An organ called the mantle secretes the substance that forms the shell. A muscular foot under the body is used for locomotion." Mollusks form the second largest invertebrate phylum.

Most mollusks live in water, have soft, shapeless, nonsegmented bodies protected by an external shell made of limestone, have one broad foot for locomotion, and hatch from eggs. About eighty thousand species of mollusk have been identified.

Most aquatic mollusks don't make good pets. They seem to do well in large salt-water aquaria, but most of us find that a salt-water aquarium is a bit too difficult to maintain. Most pet stores where they have fish have salt-water tanks with mollusks in them. It's usually okay to go into the stores and look at the animals on display. Salt-water animals are frequently very colorful, and it is truly a pleasure to watch them.

Some mollusks make wonderful pets. I once had four hermit crabs in a terrarium. You can buy hermit crabs at the pet store for about $5.00 each. You need to have an inch or so of gravel, and some empty shells. Hermit crabs don't have built-in shells, and they inhabit shells left behind by those animals that shed their shells as they grow. It's a good thing that there are no mollusk cops. Hermit crabs would all be in jail, because all the shells are stolen. Hermit crabs like to change shells sometimes, just for fun, I guess. They will work for two whole days, scraping out an empty shell, to get every bit of sand or gravel out of the shell. Then, quick as a bat of the eye, they jump out of their shell and back into the new shell. They walk around their enclosure, carrying their stolen shells with them.

At the pet store, I bought a small can of "Racing-crab food," which probably was freeze-dried bugs or something. Some hobbyists actually have crab-races! They need to have water, and a small clam or oyster shell will hold enough for them. It is interesting to watch them eat and drink. Hermit crabs are very small, and their enclosure stays livable for months between thorough cleanings. You just take out the crabs and put them in a bowl or something from which they can't escape, rinse the gravel several times, wipe out the inside of their terrarium, put the gravel, empty shells, crabs, and water bowl back in there, and you're finished. The crabs think they have a new environment, and will hide in their shells for awhile before setting up housekeeping.

I had my crab terrarium on my desk at my office. Sometimes waiting clients would point out to me, with some alarm, that those shells seem to be moving! They were really surprised to know that I had pet crabs! Nevertheless, it was fun.


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