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Hermit Crabs Need Special Care

Updated on July 24, 2018
Lorelei Nettles profile image

Lorelei and her family have owned various kinds of pets over the years and have learned the ins and outs of caring for them.

We often run out and get pets we believe will be easy to care for. Unfortunately, too many people purchase a pet like a hermit crab without really knowing how to care for them and the pets dies soon after purchasing. I discovered that even most pet shops have no idea how to properly care for hermit crabs and often just use a spray bottle to dampen them occasionally. Since this is not enough care for the crabs, those purchased are often already sick or near death. To help alleviate this problem I wanted to share some tips on how to care for them. Setting up a proper home for hermit crabs is key and once completed a hermit crab can live a long healthy life with general care.

Hermit Crab Supplies - A Tank

Unless you live on a tropical island or in the rainforest, disregard the airy boxes the pet stores sell as hermit crab homes, your crab will not enjoy his short life in them. It is best to get a nice glass or plastic tank instead. You can usually find a used one for sale. Even someone’s old leaky tank will work since it is not necessary to hold water. Just make sure it is clean. It can be small or large, it depends on how many hermit crabs you wish to have and how large the crabs you get are. I received my first two crabs by mail order and they were the size of tennis balls. Most pet stores have crabs the size of golf balls or smaller.

A Tank Cover

Tank covers range but you really need a well-sealed enclosure to create humidity. I purchased a full fitted metal screen lid and then covered all but the corner of it with Glad Press and Seal Wrap. The reason for that you do not want it too dry inside the tank. The nice thing about the wrap is it is adjustable and you can peel it back or recover more of it as needed, depending on the temperature and dryness of the room it is in. You want the tank to be humid but not completely drippy. Your cover must also be heavy enough to not allow them to push their way out. With a lighter cover, you can weight it.

A Tank Heater

An under-tank heater works best I used the Zoo Med Repti Therm Under Tank Heater

Which sticks right to the underside of the tank. It was both inexpensive and lasted over three years. This does not get too hot but warms the tank enough to keep the crabs cozy. I did not want the heater directly on my wood furniture so, I propped the tank up on wood blocks. Some like to use the lizard heated rocks, but the idea is to create moisture and I felt they were too dry.

Play Sand

Children’s play sand. Due to the poisons that can be in regular sand, it should not be used for hermit crabs. Play sand can be purchased in 5 to 10 lb. bags at most hardware stores. Make sure to have enough sand to cover your largest crab with about an inch to spare.

Note: Some people like to use aquarium glass or rocks, but these are very hard on the crabs and a hazard to them when they shed their shell and are soft-bodied. Plus, it causes stress. A stressed crab will lose limbs and could die.

Hiding Places

Hermit crabs like to hide. A hermit hut for small crabs is nice to have. Usually made from half a coconut. This will not be large enough for very large crabs but works well for the smaller ones. I used clay plant pots turned on their sides for my larger crabs.

Source

Decorate

Plants or large clean rocks. Hermit crabs like to climb on things. They will even climb up the seals on the corner of the tanks. Mine used to scale the screen on the ceiling of the tank. I used to change out the tank occasionally using various items just to keep it interesting for them. You can also use clean coral and shells. Some also use rope ladders and such for climbing. I recommend you do an Internet search using the words "hermit crab tank" to see the various setups people have for their crabs.

Note: Be sure items are cleaned with simple dish soap and rinsed well. Chemicals and dirty items can cause disease. Do not use the dishwasher as it can leave residue!

Clean and Safe

A small slotted cleaning scoop to remove waste.

Water conditioner. This makes tap water safe by neutralizing chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals. I usually kept a gallon of water handy and it only takes a few drops to work. A bottle of drops is around $4 and lasts a long time. I used AquaSafe brand. It’s the same thing you would use for fish tank water.

Other Supplies

A large shallow water dish. It must be large enough for the crabs to crawl in and out of. You can partially bury it to get the right height as well. The water dish has three uses. A) Placed on the sand directly over the heater, the water will slightly heat and humidify your tank. B) Crabs need water in their shells and will bathe in it. C) Crabs drink the water (but not much).

Spare shells. Always have a few shells that are slightly larger than your crab’s current shell. Hermit crabs move to new homes as they grow. Sometimes they move just because they can, and sometimes this happens several times a day or even an hour.

Purchase a cuttlebone. They are sold in the bird section. They will chip it off and eat it. It gives them carotene and helps them retain hard shells. If you do not they will start snapping off bits of each other’s or their own shells.

Hermit crab food. You can purchase the pellet food and treats at your local pet store and some grocery stores have it. Hermit crabs also love many fresh foods. (see below)

Now that you know what you need you are all set to raise healthy hermit crabs. I know this sounds like a lot but these are for the most part one time purchases. To care for hermit crabs and understand how they live, here are a few tips.

  • If you set your tank up correctly it should be humid enough. You can purchase a humidity dial if you wish but it is not necessary. Do make sure there is only about ½” to 1” of sand between the heater and the water dish. I put my sand in at a slope in the tank. One side was low enough to let the water dish put off humidity and the other was deep enough to cover my crabs.
  • Hermit crabs disappear for months at a time. They like to bury themselves when stressed or when molting. Do not freak out and dig them up. They are not hungry or thirsty and will be fine. Molting takes some time. They not only molt their shell but they also eat it afterward. They remain underground until they get a new hard shell. If they do sneak out they will probably do it after dark and you not see it happen.
  • If you have a crab that has been down for a couple of weeks and you have more than one crab, you can create a divider to keep them apart. They occasionally try to dig their buddies up.
  • Keep your hermit crabs in a room where you will not be disturbed by the noise they make. They like to roam at night and their shells often clunk against the tank as they do so and sometimes they fall against it, which can be quite loud.
  • Sometimes crabs fight. They are wild and like to establish dominance. Do not try to stop them. If it gets to be too often or it is very disturbing to you, you can separate them but unless you plan on keeping them separated it usually is not worth it.

We even moved across country with our hermit crabs. We used the little carrier we first purchased for the crabs before they came and we realized it was not good enough. Notice we covered it with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in.

More Foods

Hermit crabs love things like seedless watermelon, air-popped popcorn, salt-free sardines, coconut, salmon dog treats, and other various items. Make sure there are no oils or any other seasonings on treats.

A great resource is the Hermit Crab Association. They have answers to all your questions and chat boards so you can engage with other hermit crab owners. Hermit crabs can be very entertaining pets and it is remarkable how attached you can become to them once you have had them for a while.

Tank Cleaning

Aside from straining out the sand of waste as needed, there are a few things you can do to keep the tank fresh. Always remember to remove the crabs while cleaning.

  1. Occasionally add fresh sand because as you remove waste there will be some sand depletion.
  2. I used a mixture of vinegar and water to clean the glass of the tank because it dries clear and will not make the crabs sick. Make sure it is dry before returning them to the tank.
  3. Rearrange the items decorating the tank and check for molds or other foreign bodies. I washed the items regularly with regular dishwashing soap. Do not use the dishwasher.
  4. Keep the water dish clean. Once a week or as needed- pull the dish and give it a good washing. Sitting water can dirty the dish.

The more you handle your hermit crab the more he will grow accustomed to it. Be careful at first because they will pinch. I started by setting mine on my lap to let them get used to me. I purchased a hamster ball and let mine travel the house occasionally. Or I just let them run on the dining room table, with my supervision of course. Never allow your hermit crab drop to the floor.

Enjoy raising your hermit crab!

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