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How to Care For Hermit Crabs: So Much Joy, So Little Maintenance

Updated on May 5, 2017
grand old lady profile image

Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

I had long surrendered myself to the fact that the only pets we can ever have are our three dogs. They chase cats, rabbits and are too noisy for birds. Then one day my daughter came home with a surprise – three hermit crabs that she found on the beach.

L-R Sheldon, Shell and Pearl wait in an empty bowl while their tank is being cleaned.
L-R Sheldon, Shell and Pearl wait in an empty bowl while their tank is being cleaned. | Source

These hermit crabs have become a great source of pleasure for our home and everybody likes to check on them daily. Here are some tips on making a comfortable place for your hermit crab:

  1. Invest in an aquarium that can accommodate five gallons of living space for two crabs.
  2. Build a substrate in the aquarium that reaches up to 3 inches high. The substrate can either be gravel or reptile bark bedding. The latter is good to retain humidity, but in a tropical country like ours, gravel works out very well, especially when you clean the tank.
  3. Give them fresh water and food daily. Our hermit crabs are very tiny, so we just used shells that we already had in the house, one for their water and another for their food. Don’t use painted shells – they’re bad for the crabs.
  4. Avoid metal. Hermit crabs are very sensitive to metal, so don’t use a metallic water or food container.

An edited version of this article was featured in Animal Scene, a local magazine in The Philippines
An edited version of this article was featured in Animal Scene, a local magazine in The Philippines | Source

5. Change their water and food daily to avoid bacteria and molds.

6. Give them things to climb on. Pieces of wood that you find outside should do well enough. We added a wooden bowl and spoon which the crabs like to climb on and sometimes we’ll find one of the hermit crabs in the bowl, or under the spoon. A few rocks will do, too.

Feeding your hermit crab

Because hermit crabs are small, you really don’t have to spend money to feed them. We give them whatever we have – rice, fruit (bananas, apples, mango, pineapples), vegetables (save the carrot peelings, they like them. They also eat watercress and spinach), nuts, seeds and seaweed.

The important thing to remember is that they are very small so their appetites are, too. Just three grains of cooked rice is safe. Make the carrot peelings very, very small for their mouths. If you’re eating a banana mash the tip for them.

Cover of the magazine where an edited version of this article was published.
Cover of the magazine where an edited version of this article was published. | Source

However, don’t give them anything preserved or canned. And make sure that the water you give them is de-chlorinated. Chlorine is bad for hermit crabs and can, with repeated exposure, kill them.

Purchase a bio mix and read the instructions. You have to put the de-chlorinator in a sieve and pour the water over it. The water that comes through the sieve is what you can use to add moisture to your gravel.

To bathe or not to bathe?

Generally, it’s not advisable to bathe your hermit crabs. However, it helps to have a dish of de-chlorinated water in the aquarium that is big enough for them to get in and out of. That way, they can choose whether or not to bathe themselves.

In our case we tried to replicate a beach by have a three inch substrate for them and leaving some de-chlorinated water at the end. Sometimes we see them swimming in it. We keep rocks in the “beach” water that they can climb on if they feel restless.

We also feel that adding the little “beach” becomes a way for the gravel to retain the moisture that the crabs like. We also like the salty smell that comes from the water.

Cleaning your aquarium

Be sure to clean your aquarium once a month. The advantage of gravel is that it can easily be cleaned. We just put it into a basket and roll the dechlorinated water over it. The water will eventually sift through the basket and the gravel can be put back in the aquarium.

You must also wash your aquarium, shells, and any decorations that you keep in it. While doing this you can put your hermit crabs in a safe place like a plastic bowl.

Have fun

Hermit crabs are amazing. There is a time when they hide beneath the gravel because they are molting. That means, they are shedding their skin. If they have newly molted, you can bathe them in de-chlorinated water for 45 seconds. This is because newly molted hermit crabs smell like fresh meat and another hermit crab might eat it.

Also, add larger shells because when a hermit crab molts, it will be bigger and will need a larger shell to get into. Sometimes two crabs will fight over a shell. We saw a video of two crabs that were so busy fighting over a shell, they didn’t notice that the third one had gotten it and walked away with it. I think there’s a lesson for humanity in that.

At any rate, here's a video that shows the process of how a hermit changes shells. It's quite a beautiful process when you consider that it's like when a person moves into a larger house.

Process of hermit crab changing shells -- quite breathtakingly filmed

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    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Brittany, pleased to see you here:). It must be a fantastic feeling to have these darling crabs climbing up your hand. Hermit crabs are so easy to love.

    • bbanks27 profile image

      Brittany Banks 3 months ago from Spokane, Washington

      I had two of them before. One of them used to love climbing on my hand!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Besarian,

      Thank you for your kind words.They are really cute pets, and you feel good just looking at them, even if they don't move very often.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      Just reading about caring for hermit crabs made me smile a lot! I can feel the joy they bring you through your writing. Great hub! I had never considered a hermit crab as a pet before. Maybe some day!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks DDE. They are really cute, we put them on the dining table and it's so much fun to see where they are at each moment of the day.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A unique pet and sounds interesting

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      JPSO138, Yes, they make lovely pets. Just make sure you have a succession of larger shells for them to use to grow into. You only have to collect them from the beach:). BTW, I'm glad that you seem to have been okay despite the horrible tragedy in Cebu, Samar, Leyte and Bohol. My relatives are from Cebu, Bohol and Leyte. We lost a cousin and his family in Leyte. It's so sad. But Filipinos are resilient and I feel so loved by all the international help that is also coming in, aside from donations by Filipinos everywhere. God bless, my friend.

    • JPSO138 profile image

      JPSO138 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      Wow, why did I never thought of having a pet like this one. There are so many hermit crabs in our area since I live near the sea. Very interesting hub. Up for this one!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Hi, Izettl,

      Yes, it would be a great bonding experience for you and your daughter to raise hermit crabs together:). Thank you for taking time to read this hub.

    • izettl profile image

      Lizett 4 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Great info. Thinking about doing this with my daughter.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you pstraubie for sharing your story about your grandson. I hope he was able to recover and that he is well today. Who would have thought that these little creatures could bring so much happiness? I am waiting expectantly for the angels:)

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for the advise, Borisa. The more I hear about these hermit crabs, the more interesting they become:) Thankfully, our crabs live alone. I think I would hate them too if they killed all my beautiful fish.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you innerspin. Sorry aboout not defining "substrate." The hermit crabs are so cute. Their tank is on the dining table so we get to look at them at least three times a day. There's always that temptation to dig through the gravel to find out where they are. They even made little nests in the wooden bowls we put in. They put gravel in the bowl and they like to hang out in the bowls sometimes. When you put a tiny piece of corn inside, you can see bite marks the next day. It's so much fun.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Interesting to read about these little creatures. I had to look up "substrate" so now I know a new word too! It's lovely to hear the hermit crabs bring pleasure to your life.

    • Borsia profile image

      Borsia 4 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      I had a big salt water aquarium for many years. All was beautiful we had live coral lots of colorful fishes, Spanish Dancer and nudibranches all in harmony.

      Then my ex decided she wanted to add a hermit crab. Overnight it had killed all of the coral, the nudibranches and the Dancer pulled up all the real and fake seaweed and pretty much ruined the whole aquarium. All of these things cost a lot of money and were very hard to get established.

      When she got up and saw what had happened she braved the 2 lion fish and got the crab out of the tank. I won't say what she did with it,,,, not pretty.

      So yes they are interesting but never put one in an aquarium with other living things.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks for sharing this. It brought back the time when we had hermit crabs. My grandson had been very ill for several years and we had been gone so much (to the hospital) that a pup or a kitty was not possible. But a hermit crab...or two...that was perfect.

      It was so much fun when they changed to a new shell.

      Thanks for the memories. Angels are on the way ps

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for the input, Deomar. You appear to be quite the expert in hermit crabs, and I enjoy the new info you've provided me. You must have observed them to grow quite big if they could steal shells of mollusks and eat chicks! Mine are so tiny, like little babies. Do you anticipate they will also grow very large? I assumed this would be their full size and that the bigger ones were different from mine.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you, Ms Dora. I didn't know that these could be pets, and they came straight off the beach:). Someone told me that as the child of a single parent, these were the only pets he had, and they contributed so much happiness to his younger years.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      So your daughter brought you a real treat. Now you know enough to write about them. Good read too! Thank you.