Louis and Slowpoke’s family, and other critters and creatures we saw on St. John

by julie swanson

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When our oldest, A, was a preschooler, she wanted a pet desperately but we had a very small house, so one Christmas Santa got her two hermit crabs. She named them Louis and Slowpoke. I LOVE those names. Every time I even think about them I smile. I mean how cute, Louis (Louis? Where did she get that? We knew no one named Louis, she’d never even been read a book with a character named Louis in it). And Slowpoke, such a kid name, obviously a second thought, a comparison name, because he or she was not as fast as good ol’ Louis. Not Slowpoke and Speedy as you might expect, but Slowpoke and Louis. If only I could come up with as good a pair of names for the stories I write. Anyway, each time we saw a hermit crab hiking on St. John, we thought of A and smiled and wished she were with us to see them all. It was very tempting to try to bring a couple home and ship them to her, but Louis and Slowpoke II wouldn’t have liked that. *(correction: A just read this and told me she did not name both hermit crabs, that her younger sister K named Slowpoke. Which makes the fact that these names don’t seemingly go together–but are actually very cute together because of that–make much more sense. Sorry, K, want to be sure to give credit where credit is due!)

There are hermit crabs all over St. John, some very large. You’ll be walking down a path and a ‘rock’ will spontaneously and gently roll down an incline and you’ll think, that’s weird, I didn’t just kick that rock or anything–why did it move? Then when it comes to rest, you see that it’s not a rock, but a shell, a hermit crab that pulled its claws in (out of fear maybe, they hear or see you coming and play dead/rock?).

Look at the purples and pinks and reds of those claws.

A close-up of these shy creatures’ undersides. Look at the purples and reds of those claws.

We also spied this caterpillar on a hike, never saw one like this before.

We also spied this bright caterpillar on a hike, never saw one like this before.

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A close up.

As I mentioned, but probably got buried in an earlier post on St. John, there are also some much bigger creatures that wander the island; donkeys and goats and chickens, even cows that graze unfenced alongside the road. We read somewhere that they refer to the donkeys as ‘feral,’  which I find a curious label. They seemed very tame to me. Steve and I stumbled upon a group of 7 donkeys on our way back from a hike our first day. There they were sharing the same skinny path we needed to go on to get back to our eco-tent, only coming in the opposite direction. No one had told us to expect to run into a pack of donkeys so we didn’t know if they’d escaped their pen or what. Were they friendly, we wondered as we stepped into the woods to give them the right of way. Yes, that time they were. They just ambled on past us with barely a glance our way, but we were later told that they are not always so indifferent, that they will come up to you and if you put a hand out to pet them, they may bite it because they are mad you don’t have anything in your hand to feed them, as people evidently do. They are on the sides of the main road, too, even on the road, refusing to budge and making cars stop or go around them. Goats, too, whole herds of them, dozens. Chickens and roosters, too. I read of ‘wild’ boars that do the same on the island, but we didn’t see any. Also heard of gigantic caterpillars, but didn’t spot those either.

Bugs? We’d been warned that bugs can be a problem and that some people get bitten all over by misquitoes and no-see-ums (one person leaving the day we came said his wife even had bites all over, even on her palms; he admitted she was one of those people who seemed to attract bugs to her), but we had no problem whatsoever. We came prepared with bug spray and a net to put over our bed and sleep under, but neither were needed. I got one bug bite on my leg, that’s it. We did see some bugs, but they were not the biting type, nothing big or scary either.

On St. Thomas, the USVI we flew into before ferrying over to St. John, we saw huge iguanas, almost stumbled over them. They were scary but we eventually got up the courage to go past them (they would not get out of our way going up a stairway) and saw they were not at all aggressive and very used to people. On St. John, we only saw smaller gecko-like things.

As for underwater creatures, we saw plenty of those. We snorkeled a lot. Everyday. We asked around and followed tips and snorkeled all but a few bays. Saw all kinds of things and really enjoyed the snorkeling. The water was nice and warm, the colors as beautiful underwater as above. Very relaxing and good exercise if you want it to be and go for a while. We swam out and snorkeled around small islands. I won’t bother saying all the places we went and which we’d recommend unless you’re interested and ask in a comment. Having grown up in a tourist area myself, I know that sometimes you don’t give away the best spots so easily or they become too quickly spoiled. It was sad to hear a park ranger tell of how much of the coral is dead, covered with algae, broken off and dingy in color whereas healthy it would be vivid bright colors like the fish, all because snorkelers’ fins and feet and boat motors hit it and knock pieces off or just kill it.

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