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Caring for Pet Hermit Crabs

Updated on September 26, 2015

Land Hermit Crab

Hermit crabs are popular pets among kids and parents. Children love them because they're crabs and they're cool. Parents like them because they're easy to care for and relatively short lived (especially if cared for the way pet stores and novelty stores along the coast explain).

In reality, they are cool, but they're not short lived. If you care for them properly, hermit crabs can live 10 to 30 or more years, which is longer than a pet dog or cat will live.

Caring for land hermit crabs, is still relatively simple, but it takes a little more care than most pet stores or novelty shop employees will share. Below, I've included basic care information for hermit crabs, as well as a few other hermit crab tips.

First, I'll go over handling of hermit crabs, as that's probably one of the biggest questions- can I handle my hermit crab?

Handling Hermit Crabs

Some hermit crabs will tolerate handling, but not all will. Some crabs will just sit in their shells, where others may walk around and explore. In most cases, the more you handle the crabs, the more they will trust you. Just make sure to always keep an eye on the claw and to move slowly so that you don't scare the crabs.

The more nervous the crab is, the more likely you will get pinched. It takes patience to gain the trust of a crab. Start slow, and if you see the crab start to grab hole of you, just gently lift him away by the shell. Always be gentle, but if you have pet hermit crabs, it's inevitable that you'll get pinched eventually.

If you decide to let your crabs roam around the room a little bit for extra exercise, be careful of dangers, especially other pets. While out, the crabs will generally try to find dark places to hide, since they're nocturnal and used to sleeping during the day, but you'll find they can be quite curious once they get used to things.

Hermit Crab Diet

No one is 100% sure as to the best diet for hermit crabs, but what is known is that in the wild, they tend to eat a very varied diet. They tend to eat fruit, decaying wood, leaf litter, plants, grasses, and various items that may have washed ashore, so needless to say, hermit crabs aren't picky. But, that doesn't mean that you should just throw anything in your hermit crab's enclosure and hope for the best.

What is known is that hermit crabs need calcium, carotene, and antioxidants in their diet. For example, a diet without enough carotene, will fade the crab's color. Corn, carrots, other bright vegetables, and dried, ground, organic marigold petals (do not use marigolds found at a garden shop as they've more than likely been treated with fertilizers and pesticides) are good to offer as sources of carotene.

You want to make sure that you offer a varied diet, to include meats and vegetables. If you would eat it, offer it to your crab.

Offer

  • Meats and fish (cooked; no sauces or butter)
  • Vegetables (anything)
  • Fruits (mango, coconut, and papaya are favorites)
  • Other foods: nuts (no salt), applesauce, raisins peanut butter, honey, cooked egg, cereal (wheat, not sugar), crackers, and popcorn
  • Various leaves and grasses (oak leaves and tree bark are favorites)- just make sure to wash off things you gather outside

You can purchase commercial crab food, but it's not necessary as long as you provide a varied diet of human foods. If you want to, you can offer the commercial diets as additives to vary up the diet, but 1) make sure that the foods don't contain ethoxyquin or copper sulfate and 2) make sure that you continue to include foods that you would eat.

You can consider the following treat ideas:

  • Dried brine shrimp and plankton
  • Fish food flakes
  • Dried fruits
  • Seaweed
  • Fish vegetable flakes without preservatives

Provide fresh water in sponges, as well as in shallow pots so that the hermit crab can soak. Wet sponges help with humidity, as well as climbing material. Place a wet sponge in the water bowl, or in a separate bowl. Just make sure that you watch out for mold and bacteria growth. Change the sponge frequently. You want to include at least two water dishes- one with a sponge and one just to soak.

Salt Soaks

Some species of hermit crabs love salt soaks, so for these species, consider buying salt water conditioner so that you can make sure your hermit crab is happy and healthy.

There are two brands that are most popular and safe.

Hermit Crab Set Up

Cage Size: It's ideal to house at least two or three hermit crabs together. A minimum tank size would be at least a 15 to 20 gallon tank, but they do best when housed in slightly larger enclosures, as they can get pretty big.

Temperature: It's ideal to keep the enclosure between 70F-85F

Humidity: Hermit crabs like it humid, so stick with between 70%-80%

Substrate: You want a least an inch or so of substrate to allow the hermit crabs to dig and burrow. It's best to use a mix of coconut coir and play sand. I prefer a 50/50 ratio, but you can always create mini habitats within the enclosure with part sand and part coconut coir, which will definitely help add to the stimulation of the crabs, although it may be a little more mess than you'd like.

Decor: Hermit crabs like to climb. Try adding cork bark, dried choya, wood, drift wood, wire mesh, clay pots (unpainted), and other items to hide under and climb on. Try to avoid anything that has paint on it, and be leery of plastic, as hermit crabs may try to pick at it, and you don't want them to ingest anything with paint or plastic. It's best to stick with natural decor.

Shells: You want to make sure that you provide plenty of shells. You want to include different sizes, styles, and types. Some hermit crabs are really picky and only like certain types of shells, which is why it's important to provide a wide variety. These can be nice decor pieces, as well as new homes for your growing crabs.

Fighting Over Shells- Chirping

Hermit Crab Behaviors

Hermit crabs are very social creatures, so if you were thinking about just getting one hermit crab, you'll really want to think again. It's best to have at least two or three hermit crabs in the enclosure, but if you can create a larger setup for more, the better.

Hermit crabs are nocturnal, which means they'll create a good bit of ruckus at night, but they'll sleep during the day. Sometimes, if you wake them during the day and they get enough exercise during the day, they may sleep at night, but that's not always a guarantee.

You'll find that on occasion, some hermit crabs can be aggressive to other hermit crabs. Signs of aggression between hermit crabs may include shell fighting, where one crab will force another out of its shell. During fights, crabs may lose claws, legs, antennae, or eyes. Other signs of aggression may include, one crab running up to another and flicking his legs or claws at the other crab or waving its antennae. If you notice any signs of aggression or fighting, you'll want to separate the crabs that are fighting, or at least take out the one initiating the fights, if you have your hermit crabs housed in a community tank.

Land hermit crabs will dig for a few days when they're getting ready to molt.

Chirping sounds may indicate stress, which can be caused by bullying by other crabs or an improper housing environment.

Molting is a common behavior for hermit crabs. Basically, when the old skin (exoskeleton) gets too small and tight, the crab will shed it. The crab will generally stay in hiding and sucked into his shell after molting, as they are the most vulnerable. When the new skin hardens, you'll start to see the activity level increase back to normal. Before a molt, the crab may start digging more, have dull eyes, and an increased appetite.

Hermit crabs change shells often, so it's important to include various shell sizes and shapes. Typically, they will change once they've grown to big for their current shell, but sometimes they do get bored and need a new house. Just make sure to offer plenty of options. If you notice that your crab is too large for its shell, but it won't change, you'll need to add more options to the tank, he just hasn't found what he's looking for.

Changing Shells

Comments

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    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Unusual pet. What a long life span.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      What about a "crab wash" cycle? Or a crab fair... Crabs are not one of my kinda pets, but each to their own! You research is great.

    • primpo profile image

      Primpo 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York

      alot of great information.. i remember having one as a kid. but i still prefer dogs cats and horses!!!!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I pesonally wouldn't do that but it is a well written hub with good information.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

      Hmmm, I think I need a shell upgrade! Really fun hub. Thanks for sharing.

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