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...
Totally free hermit crab food • Cheap hermit crab food • Affordable hermit crab accessories • Discount hermit crab shells • Pet store deals • Recommended web sites • Buying online • Polls for hermit crab owners • Reader comments • Coupons
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Hermit Crab Safe and Unsafe Food List
A "master list" of food items which are good and bad for hermit crabs. Some items include a brief reason such as "Vitamin C." For more details about hermit crab foods, see the Food Trials blog.
- Hermit Crab Food Trials
A fascinating blog which details the ingredients in some of the popular Crabotanicals food products, explaining nutritional benefits and suggesting hundreds of food items which are safe for hermit crabs.
- The Hermit Crab Patch Store
This is a great shop, highly recommended for food and shells. Check the prices of food, shells, and accessories before buying hermit crabs. You can also get cheaper shells at a craft store!
- Deltona Seashells
A very large selection of land and sea snail shells, most larger shells are at unbeatable prices. Order carefully, the sizes displayed are the outer diameter of the shell, not the diameter of the opening.
Don't forget the essentials!
What do new hermit crab owners most frequently neglect to provide for their crabs?
Avoid common mistakes.
Which of the following is the most common mistake made by hermit crab owners?
Are you a saver?
Where have you saved the most money on your hermit crab gear?
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.
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.
A nutritious protein snack, your crabs will love freeze dried shrimp as a hearty weekly snack.
Perfect for climbing, but be sure the hermit crabs can't escape!
Critical to make your water safe for the hermit crabs, neutralizes harmful chlorine and chloramines. You only need 2 drops per gallon of water.
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.
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.
Don't buy "hermit crab sponges" because they're tiny and overpriced! Any natural sea sponge will do the trick.
Keep the temperature and humidity within safe ranges: 72-80 F (22-27 C) and 70-80% relative humidity.
Hermit crab photos used on this page were taken by the author, fritteritter. Other photos taken by photographers at sxc.hu, used with permission.