How to Save Money on Hermit Crab Food and Supplies

There is no doubt that the accessories which you buy to keep your hermit crabs happy and healthy will be far more expensive than the crabs themselves. Whether you need to stock up on shells, save on sand, or find affordable food, this article will teach you some tricks to find good deals.

The moral is: avoid the hermit crab accessories section in the pet store. Think outside the box... think craft stores, hardware stores, even your own backyard.

In this article...

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Hermit crabs will enjoy many wild plants that you can harvest for free, even some, such as Dandelions and Purslane, that most people consider to be weeds.
Hermit crabs will enjoy many wild plants that you can harvest for free, even some, such as Dandelions and Purslane, that most people consider to be weeds.

Nature

There are many free resources for hermit crabs in our gardens, yards, and at beaches.

In the Yard and Flower Garden

You can also feed hermit crabs certain plants and weeds that you may find in your yard or flower garden. If you are not sure how to identify a specific plant or flower, it is very important to reference a printed or online field guide which will help you to identify it. Also avoid taking plants from mowed areas as they may have absorbed oil from lawnmowing equipment.

Hermit crabs will enjoy the following foods that you may be able to collect for free: Marigold flowers, Carnation flowers, Chickweed, Clover blossoms and leaves, Daisies, Dandelion (whole plant), Day lilies, Grape leaves and vines, Hibiscus flowers, Hollyhock flowers, Impatiens, Lilac, Maple leaves, Nasturtium flowers, Oak Leaves and bark, Pansy flowers and leaves, Petunia blossoms, Purslane, Red raspberry leaves, Rose petals, Tulip flowers, and Violet flowers.

At the Beach

You can find driftwood and other crabitat decorations at the beach. Ocean beaches are the best place to look for miscellaneous natural decorations. If you decide to use a piece of driftwood in your crabitat, be sure to wash it off well with clean water. Any shells, coral, or other small items should be boiled for 15 minutes and then allowed to cool before giving them to the crabs.

To ensure that anything living on the wood is killed, some people bake the wood in the oven at 250 degrees F until it is dry. Never put wood in the oven if it has small "hairs" or splinters as these could catch fire. Do not leave the oven unattended.

Coconuts are fantastic. For $2.00 or less you get delicious fresh coconut meat AND two "coco huts" for your hermit crabs!
Coconuts are fantastic. For $2.00 or less you get delicious fresh coconut meat AND two "coco huts" for your hermit crabs!

The Grocery Store

There are a wide variety of hermit crab foods available. Most combine dried fruits and vegetables with natural sources of calcium and protein.

The most important thing to remember when buying food at a grocery store is that the pesticides and preservatives which are at levels generally acceptable for human consumption can be very harmful to your hermit crabs. Look for organic produce and scan ingredient labels of other products for chemicals and preservatives. If the food must be prepared, do not use any oils or seasonings unless they are known to be safe for your crabs.

Meat and Seafood

Hermit crabs are wild animals and it is no secret that they love seafood. Any meat or seafood should be cleaned and cooked without any seasoning. Your crabs will love these once-a-week snacks: shrimp shells and tails, cooked fish, sushi, and especially leftover bones (chicken, pork, beef, etc).

Hermit crabs love to pick meat off the bone! They will also get nutritional benefits out of the shells of other crustaceans such as lobster, crab (yes, crab), and shrimp (aka prawns).

Fruits

The following fruits make excellent food for hermit crabs, fresh or dried: coconut, papaya, mango, apple, pumpkin, berries (strawberry, cranberry, blueberry, blackberry, cherry), banana, and grapes.

My hermit crabs have always avoided citrus fruits like oranges and kumquats. Remove seed pits before serving.

Vegetables

Hermit crabs will munch on nearly any vegetable, including: carrots, tomatoes, beets, beans, peas, and lettuce (even washed grass).

Carrots and various other red or dark fruits and vegetables provide beta carotene which helps dramatically enrich your hermit crab's coloration.

Seeds and Nuts

The following foods are good once in a while, but should probably not be on the menu more than two times a week: peanuts, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, beech nuts, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.

Be sure to buy unsalted seeds and nuts. The iodide in standard salt is harmful to crabs. Many seeds are toxic, search the Approved Hermit Crab Foods list and Hermit Crab Food Trials before trying something not listed above.

Grains

Nearly all grains that are available for humans are safe for hermit crabs. Try a few of these: oatmeal, corn, organic cereal, barley, and bread crumbs (make your own from old bread).

Do not feed any bread or grain that has been processed with preservatives.

Preparing and Preserving

Hermit crabs don't eat much and a pair of yearlings will never devour a whole papaya before it goes bad. Whenever you have a good variety of food available, think about how you might preserve it. Freezing will preserve almost anything, just wrap it well to prevent freezer burn.

If you purchased dried fruit or have a food dehydrator, you can dry the food for storage. You may also enjoy making your own food mixes with diced or blended dry food. For suggested foods, see the Approved Hermit Crab Foods list.

Porous cement blocks like these castlewall bricks encourage hermit crabs to climb and explore.
Porous cement blocks like these castlewall bricks encourage hermit crabs to climb and explore.

The Hardware Store

The hardware store does not have a hermit crab section, it's up to you to do some research and then just imagine how you can use some of the items sold here.

Substrates

The most important money saver is playground sand. For around $3 you can get 50 lbs. (23 kg) of sand which, depending on the size of your crabitat, may last a long time. Compare this to substrate found in the pet store, you would pay $100 for this much "hermit crab sand." Choose the most natural sand available (usually playground sand) because the crabs will enjoy eating bits of seashell and other nutrient sources in natural sand. Sand should be kept at a moisture level such that you could make sand castles with it, but many man-made sands are too rocky to hold water in this way.

You are sure to find other treasures at the hardware store for far less than you would pay at a pet store: lawn ornaments, burlap, and cement blocks for climbing, pea gravel for decoration, as well as plexiglass and aquarium silicone for aquarium dividers and multi-level crabitats. Just be sure to wash well with warm water to clean the climbables and decorations.

Shells, coral, and sea sponges are sold at craft stores for decorating. Get a good deal and give them a better purpose!
Shells, coral, and sea sponges are sold at craft stores for decorating. Get a good deal and give them a better purpose!

The Craft Store

You've seen tiny shells on necklaces, but did you know that craft stores also carry larger shells, much cheaper than the price you would pay at a pet store?

Shells and Accessories

Bags of shells, polished rocks, and other natural decorations are usually found in a nautical section of the store. For about $3 you can buy a bag of seashells, some of which will be the perfect size for your crabs. Look for bags with many unbroken shells with round openings and you could bring home 5 to 10 excellent hermit crab shells for the cost of 2 or 3. Before visiting the craft store, learn more about how to choose the correct sized shells for your hermit crab. Boil any shells that you buy for a few minutes to clean them, then let them dry before adding to your crabitat.

Cholla wood and sea sponges, staples in any crabitat, can also be found at a craft store. You can find a variety of sizes at about twice the size and half the price you would pay in a pet store.

What else can you find? Think silk plants for decoration, glass bowls for food and water, and driftwood, coral, or other fun climbing items.

Some products marketed for other animals are perfect for hermit crabs, too.
Some products marketed for other animals are perfect for hermit crabs, too.

The Pet Store

Some items are not available outside the pet store, but that doesn't mean you can't look outside the hermit crab section. Some products suitable for hermit crabs can be found in the bird, fish, and reptile sections as well, in larger quantities or at lower cost than their crab-marketed counterparts.

Food

It is good to give your crabs a commercial hermit crab food for balanced nutrition a couple times each week, but you can find other food items that your crabs will enjoy as well: freeze dried krill or baby shrimp in the fish food section, frozen blood worms or brine shrimp in the fish food freezer (a variety pack is a good idea), and cuttlebones in the bird section (for calcium). Carefully avoid any foods with preservatives as even the pet store will sell products which are unsafe for hermit crabs.

Accessories and Decorations

Aquarium decorations are much more fun than reptile decorations. Also look for cheaper thermometers and hydrometers which might be a better buy than a hermit crab combination meter. If you need to heat the crabitat, consider an under-tank heater or red night lamp for reptiles.

Recommended web sites

The following articles and web sites have been chosen for their excellent information and readability. Please take some time to research hermit crabs and plan how you will keep them before buying your crabs.

Don't forget the essentials!

What do new hermit crab owners most frequently neglect to provide for their crabs?

  • Deep, moist substrate
  • Another crab for company
  • Organic human food
  • Specialized crab food
  • Salt water
  • Adequate heat (72-80 F)
  • Adequate humidity (70-80%)
  • Dark places to hide
  • Things to climb on
  • Appropriate shells
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Avoid common mistakes.

Which of the following is the most common mistake made by hermit crab owners?

  • Wrong food (i.e. preservatives, toxic)
  • Wrong substrate (i.e. gravel, calcium sand)
  • Too cold or hot
  • Too dry or moist
  • Impatience (i.e. forcing shell changes)
  • Small plastic cages
  • Not providing enough shells
  • Dangerous environment
  • Buying painted shells
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Are you a saver?

Where have you saved the most money on your hermit crab gear?

  • Pet store
  • Hardware store
  • Grocery store
  • Craft store
  • Found items (nature)
  • Other
  • Nowhere, but now that I've read this article I'm ready to start saving!
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Save the hassle and buy online

Depending on your location, it may be difficult to find a pet store, hardware store, or craft store. Fortunately, Amazon.com provides nearly any product you could need. Some items may be cheaper online, but watch out for high shipping costs. With Amazon, some orders over $25 qualify for free shipping.

HBH Hermit Crab Bites 2.25oz
HBH Hermit Crab Bites 2.25oz

This is a dry food with good nutrition and no harmful preservatives. Give the hermit crabs a bit of this a couple times a week in addition to fresh food.

 
San Francisco Bay Brand ASF71720 Freeze Dried Mysis Shrimp for Fresh and Saltwater Fish, 48gm
San Francisco Bay Brand ASF71720 Freeze Dried Mysis Shrimp for Fresh and Saltwater Fish, 48gm

A nutritious protein snack, your crabs will love freeze dried shrimp as a hearty weekly snack.

 
T-Rex Climbing Background
T-Rex Climbing Background

Perfect for climbing, but be sure the hermit crabs can't escape!

 
Nox Ich 1/2 ounce (4 drams)
Nox Ich 1/2 ounce (4 drams)

Critical to make your water safe for the hermit crabs, neutralizes harmful chlorine and chloramines. You only need 2 drops per gallon of water.

 
Instant Ocean Sea Salt, 10-Gallon (Net wt : 3 Lbs)
Instant Ocean Sea Salt, 10-Gallon (Net wt : 3 Lbs)

Mix with dechlorinated water to make salt water, never use table salt (aka iodized salt). I usually mix 1/2 gallon (2 quarts) of salt water in a pitcher with 1/4 cup Instant Ocean.

 
Zilla Lizard Lagoon Reptile Water Dish (Medium)
Zilla Lizard Lagoon Reptile Water Dish (Medium)

Add a small sea sponge in the water bowl so the crabs can climb out. Try to find a bowl that's deep enough for the crabs to submerge.

 
HYDRA 00134 Natural Texturizing Wool Faux Finish Sponges Bag, 6-Pack
HYDRA 00134 Natural Texturizing Wool Faux Finish Sponges Bag, 6-Pack

Don't buy "hermit crab sponges" because they're tiny and overpriced! Any natural sea sponge will do the trick.

 
Zoo Med Hermit Crab Thermometer and Humidity Gauge, Colors May Vary
Zoo Med Hermit Crab Thermometer and Humidity Gauge, Colors May Vary

Keep the temperature and humidity within safe ranges: 72-80 F (22-27 C) and 70-80% relative humidity.

 

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Reader comments 2 comments

Jessica 7 years ago

untreated flower pots are also awesome :D


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IsadoraPandora 6 years ago from Florida, PCB

Nice. :-)

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    Hermit crab photos used on this page were taken by the author, fritteritter. Other photos taken by photographers at sxc.hu, used with permission.

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