In the fish tank in my lab we have a crab that is remarkable for a number of reasons. For one thing it is not a crab and it has died at least twice. This remarkable creature was a gift from a Year 11 student, Margarita Solontovnikoff, and was presented with a companion tropical fish about 16 months ago. Both of these were Margarita´s former pets and, for whatever reason, she thought we might like to have them.

The fish turned out to be a little thug who spent all his waking moments bossing about the goldfish who were fellow residents of his aquarium. I suspect that it was his aggressive demeanor that resulted in his becoming a “gift” bequeathed to the Science department. In the end we put him into solitary confinement in another tank where he is serving a life sentence without parole.

Margarita´s “crab” is actually a freshwater crayfish but the kids never really got round to accepting that. I protested that that they were committing a grave taxonomic error in calling it a crab but they seemed to be able to live with this. And so, after pointing out that he was really a crayfish approximately 15 billion times, I had to admit defeat. The crayfish had become a crab.

Then he went and died. One day one of the kids at the bench closest to the tank called out “Sir! The crab is dead!” and everyone was gathered around. It was true. There he was, his trunk motionless and pale but with his fine delicate limbs moving almost imperceptibly in the current of circulating water.

While all we were passing around the Kleenex and various eulogies were being delivered, the real crayfish, alive and well and hiding in his usual place behind a submerged log, was probably asking himself what all the fuss was about. Why were mourners weeping over his discarded exoskeleton?

That was the first time Margarita´s crab died. He did it again this weekend but this time we were wise to his antics. We knew he was a “Schrodinger´s cat” kind of crayfish who could pull off the stunt of being alive and dead at the same time. I lifted the wooden log and there he was, full of beans, quietly smirking to himself.

We never gave this crayfish a name, which seems odd. A few years ago another student gave us a white mouse complete with cage and other mouse accessories and a spontaneous debate erupted. What would we call the mouse? I told the Year 7 kids that they could decide on a name provided they agreed on some majority decision. The alternative proposals were recorded on a computer file for everyone to review periodically. It was organized like the US presidential election of 2016 (although more democratic) and the result, again like the US election, was that no suitable candidate could be found.

In the end, after a great deal of undignified bickering, I told the kids that I was fed up with their arguing and that I myself would come up with a name. The mouse was duly christened “Stuart” after Stuart Little the Hollywood A-list mouse who could speak and even drive a car. It was amazing to me that none of the Year 7s had thought of this. After all they were the ones who were supposed to be kids, not me.

Why should we think that a mouse deserves a name and not a crustacean? I suspect that this is somewhat more profound question than it may first appear and that the mouse seems somehow more deserving of our affection just being a mammal. We reserve little affection of anything cold-blooded.

In order to make up for oversight and to encourage us to show greater consideration for Margarita´s twice-dead “crab” and other lowly invertebrates I shall take it upon myself to propose a name.

How about Lazarus?


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Athropods need to shed their exoskeletons to grow and we have been duped into thinking that Lazarus was dead! The real Lazarus was sniggering away behind a log when I took this photo.

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This is the fish tank in my lab. Lazarus is the star of the show and often wanders around and climbs up on things.

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Lazarus is a little quiet today. I put some food in his tank but he didn´t come out of hiding to eat it. He´s normally out like a greyhound. I had to remove his log to take this picture. I think it may take a good while for his new exoskeleton to harden up fully and he feels a little vulnerable.