Social Networking: What we can learn from Hermit Crabs

The new year brings many changes. This is my last week as the Ocean Policy Fellow at MCBI – I’m sad to leave all the great people I’ve met here over the last 5 months, but I’m leaving with a renewed sense of commitment to protecting our oceans and know that the incoming Fellow is ready to dive in.

For me this means moving, and finding a new apartment in the competitive DC rental market. I can’t help but think of hermit crabs, an animal which, like us, outgrows its home and seeks to move up. However, hermit crabs have an ally in their new home search: other crabs.

Hermit crabs go about the process of moving up in a cooperative manner through a complex regime of trades known as a “synchronous vacancy chain.” The discovery by researchers at the Tufts University of Arts and Sciences and the New England Aquarium in 2010 showed that when a new shell becomes available rather than fighting over the largest shell, crabs gather around it and form a line from largest to smallest. Once the largest crab moves into the vacant shell, each crab in the queue swiftly switches into the next newly vacated shell.

Their illustrative video shows this behavior:

One of the biggest changes happening in DC is the start of the 112th Congress today. Members are changing offices, staff is changing hands, and funds are being lobbied for. With all of these resources in transition, perhaps this Session can learn a lesson from the lowly hermit crab: if members align themselves with allies so all are positioned advantageously to meet current needs, everybody wins. Hill politics may be more adversarial than hermit crab moves, but it is certain that their networking strategies will be as useful on the Hill as under the sea.

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