When Patrick Jensen, 3, and Jessica Roach, 4, were confronted by a giant pink crab, their jaws dropped and they stepped back.
Mallets would be of no help. This crab was a fuzzy one and stared down at the youngsters as it waved its claws in the air.
"She is telling you to exercise so you will grow big," explained the crab's human (and uncostumed) companion, Jodi Risse, a food and nutrition specialist for the Anne Arundel County schools.
The children, speechless, nodded and clung to their teacher at Shipley's Choice Elementary School, where the crab, Snappy, was making a guest appearance this week with other, perhaps better-known mascots such as McGruff the crime dog and Sparky the fire prevention pooch.
Snappy is a soft-shell at heart -- a fuchsia-colored 5-footer wearing oversize black Mary Jane shoes with white lace socks -- and is the county school system's mascot.
The crab was the center of attention at the Millersville school, where children, parents and educators gathered Wednesday to promote National Walk Our Children to School Day.
That's walk, not scuttle.
Risse escorted Snappy through the school while she -- yes, this is a female crab -- greeted children in classrooms and reminded them to eat healthy foods and exercise.
Her bulging black eyes inspired giggles -- and a little fear -- among the children. Some apparently mistook her for an insect.
"I don't like spiders," a boy in Marilyn Bjore's kindergarten class said.
"Snappy is not a spider. She is a crab," Risse replied reassuringly.
"I don't like crabs, either," the boy said, continuing his objections.
He stared up at Snappy, who was waving her claws and trying to be friendly.
Snappy is played by four people.
The Snappy from Wednesday is a school cafeteria worker. The crab's identity is kept secret because, Risse said, children believe in her as they do in Santa Claus.
"They really pay attention to what Snappy says," she said. "It's important to them."
They go so far as to give Snappy advice about what to eat.
"Snappy, try to go to Giant and find pink chocolate milk," said kindergartner Luke Chamberlain, 5.