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Essentials of hermit crab care

Updated on October 11, 2014

At the Jersey Shore...

I was at the Jersey shore a few years ago when my kids and I caught sight of a large cage filled with dozens of crabs with colorful painted shells. We stopped and looked with fascination and before long I was buying a hermit crab. The sales lady's instructions were "Give it fresh water daily and hermit crab food, that's all". It seemed simple enough. To my disappointment (especially my kids!), Hermie didn't last much over a month. This past summer, we were back at the Jersey Shore and once again, my kids wanted a hermit crab. We took Leo (named after the ninja turtle, Leonardo) home, but this time I decided to find out all I needed to know about hermit crab care!

Land Hermit Crab Terrarium Habitat Kit (with Prepaid Coupon)
Land Hermit Crab Terrarium Habitat Kit (with Prepaid Coupon)

This terrarium is great because it also has incandescent light bulbs on the lid which may help in keeping the right temperature.


Leo gets a new home - a glass tank! - and choosing a tank substrate...

Hermit crabs come from tropical regions. They are clean, disease-free, and I learned that once the essential requirements are provided, hermit crabs can be a simple and fun pet to care for. The first thing I needed to do was create a proper hermit crab habitat or "crabitat" - as some people like to call it. So, this means Leo gets a new home! I bought a 10 gallon glass tank and was happy to get rid of the wire cage that he came in.

The next thing I needed to know about hermit crab care was how to set up Leo's crabitat in his new tank. Hermit crabs are diggers by nature. They may need to dig underground to de-stress, molt, or just because they want to. So, I needed to choose a substrate that would allow Leo to do this and it should be deep enough for him to bury himself completely underground.

There are 2 types of glass tanks: aquariums and terrariums. Either of these are good, just keep in mind that terrariums are made of a thinner glass, so make sure it can safely hold the proper amount of substrate or sand.


The safest substrates for hermit crabs are sand and coconut fiber. Many pet stores sell hermit crab sand (which also comes in different colors!) or you could simply buy some play sand. Coconut fiber substrate such as Eco Earth also works well. It comes in two forms: loose in a bag or compressed in the shape of a brick. Compressed coconut fiber will have to be soaked in salt water and the excess water squeezed before adding it to the tank.

I chose to use a combination of the two for the best of both worlds and also because coconut fiber helps retain moisture. It's important that I always keep Leo's crabitat substrate moist enough for him to dig, burrow, and form tunnels. It has to be damp enough that it holds its shape when you squeeze, but not so wet that it drips or bacteria may start to grow at the bottom of his tank. So, I'm using a combination that many hermit crab owners prefer which is made of a mixture of 5:1. This means that for every 5 parts of equal sand, 1 equal part of coconut fiber is used.

8 quarts Eco Earth for Small Animal and Insects, loose, coconut, fiber, substrate, coco, fibre
8 quarts Eco Earth for Small Animal and Insects, loose, coconut, fiber, substrate, coco, fibre

I chose this substrate and mixed it with sand, but you can have an all coco-fiber substrate too.

Instant Ocean Sea Salt, 25-Gallon, 7.5 pounds
Instant Ocean Sea Salt, 25-Gallon, 7.5 pounds

Just recently purchased this item myself.


Hermit Crab Supplies...

Next, some hermit crab supplies to complete Leo's crabitat paradise.


Hermit crabs always need a bowl of fresh water and a bowl of ocean salt water in their crabitat. So, I have two different water dishes deep enough for Leo to fully submerge itself. I've added a small natural sponge in each dish to help him safely come out and avoid drowning. It's also important to buy a water de-chlorinator because tap water has chlorine and other chemicals that are harmful to hermit crabs. I bought Zoo Med's Hermit Crab Drinking Water Conditioner from Amazon, but any aquarium water conditioner will do the trick.

Buying a salt conditioner is also important because table salt is not safe to use. It contains iodine which can be harmful to hermit crabs. Instant Ocean is a popular brand that I use. As for Leo's food dish, I chose to use a seashell over a dish just to add to the tropical atmosphere.


Hermit crabs wear shells to protect their soft abdomens so as they grow they will need bigger and bigger shells. I've provided several shells for Leo that have openings slightly larger than its current one. It's recommended that you have 2-3 extra shells of different sizes for each crab in your crabitat.

Quality food and treats should be available in the tank at all times. There are many commercial foods sold that come in powder or large, hard pellets. I will usually crush the pellets for Leo. The best thing to do is to supplement your hermit crab's food with fresh or dried fruits, veggies and meats. It's also recommended that you add some calcium powder or crushed cuttlebone to their diet.

Hermit crabs love to hide, climb and explore, so I've added some fun accessories in the tank. I've added a small half log and a coconut hut that Leo can crawl into and hide. Cholla wood, driftwood, cork bark, fake plants and netting are great additions too. I'm also exploring ways to add a second level so Leo has more room to explore!

T-Rex Crab Shack
T-Rex Crab Shack

Leo loves this crab shack!

Zoo Med Hermit Crab Food, 2.4-Ounce
Zoo Med Hermit Crab Food, 2.4-Ounce

There are other varieties of food you can try.


Hermit Crab Supplies... - humidity & temperature gauges

It's very important that I maintain the proper temperature and humidity in Leo's crabitat so that he remains active and comfy in a moist and tropical environment. I keep a humidity gauge in the tank to make sure that the crabitat remains between 70 and 80% relative humidity. This is critical because hermit crabs breathe using modified gills that need to remain moist at all times or they will slowly suffocate and die.To help keep the proper humidity, I mist Leo's crabitat daily and keep the substrate moist.

Heating Leo's crabitat is also important so I also keep a thermometer gauge in the tank. The ideal temperature is between 72 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. I try to aim for 78-80. The best way to provide heat is to get a 15 watt reptile heat lamp or an under tank heater (UTH). If you use a UTH, be sure to use it on the side or the back of the tank so that it's more effective.

Exo Terra Digital Combination Thermometer/Hygrometer
Exo Terra Digital Combination Thermometer/Hygrometer

Great choice for critical monitoring and it has a digital display too!

Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater, Large
Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater, Large

This is ideal for a 10-20 gallon tank.


Leo gets a crabby friend! - and more to learn about hermit crab care...

I found out that despite their name, hermit crabs are very sociable. So, a few weeks later I got Leo a crabby friend named Goji (short for Gojira, and according to my son, Japanese for Godzilla!). In the wild, hermit crabs live in large colonies, so it's recommended that you get no less than 2 hermit crabs because lonely crabs become very inactive and have a shortened life span.

This is not all you'll need to to know about hermit crab care, but it's a great essential start. Properly caring for hermit crabs like Leo and Goji takes time and effort, but it's also fun!

Fun Fact Poll

The shell on this crab is similar to Leo's. This pic was posted at by Heath Nichols.

Did you know that hermit crabs are nocturnal, so they are most active in the evening and at night?

See results

5 Crabby Fun Facts

1. Hermit crabs can grow from the size of a marble to the size of a baseball!

2. Hermit crabs can make a chirping noise and scientists have yet to concretely explain how and why they do it!

3. There are more than 600 species of hermit crabs in the world!

4. Some hermit crabs have lived as long as 15 years in captivity!

5. Hermit crabs drink by dipping their claws in water and depositing the water into their gills and mouth!

This pic was posted on flickr by Arthur Chapman.

Comments are welcome!

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hermit CrabsSpecies Most Common in the Pet Trade:Caribbean Hermit Crab: Coenobita clypeatusEcuadorian Hermit Crab: Coenobita cmerpossusHabitat: Tropical beaches Diet: OmnivorousAdult Size: Varies – usually no larger than a baseballLifespan: 1-5 years in captivity, much longer in the wildNative To: Tropical regions around the worldDid You Know???b7 Hermit crabs don’t have shells of their own – to protect their bodies, they“borrow” shells discarded by other creatures. When they outgrow these quarters,they look for a new shell.b7 Hermit crabs aren’t hermits at all – highly social creatures, they needcompanionship to thrive. In the wild, they sometimes live in groups of thousands– at home, three or four will keep each other company.b7 Hermit crabs are very clean – they defecate into their shell, then occasionally“scoop their poop” out with a back leg, usually all in one place. This makes spotcleaning the enclosure very easy.7 Things You Should KnowAbout Land Hermit CrabsThe basics There are hundreds of species of land-dwelling Hermit Crabs in the world,all-originating from seashore locations in tropical climates. Most specimens available in the retail pet trade are from the Caribbean or Ecuador. Caribbean crabs have roundedeyes and one front claw that is darker than all the others (giving them their nickname, thePurple Pincher), while Ecuadorian varieties are usually smaller and paler, with oval orelongated eyes and identically colored claws. Don’t worry about getting “boys” or “girls”– it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference, and hermit crabs only breed in the wild.Enclosures: They’re always on the lookout for a quick getaway Hermit Crabs are veritableHoudinis, who have a knack for escaping from any enclosure that isn’t secure. They’veeven been known to escape by climbing up the silicone sealant in the corner of glasstanks. So any enclosure must have a secure tight fitting top that also allows plenty ofventilation. They like plenty of things to explore and clamber on, but they also need asheltered spot to rest one of the many specially designed coconut shell or woodenhermit hideaways will fit both purposes. Place any tall tank accessories well away from the opening, so the crabs can’t climb up on them to escape. Any enclosure should belarge enough to hold all bowls and accessories while still leaving plenty of room for thecrabs to run around.Substrate: Sand suits them fine Not surprisingly since Hermit Crabs live on beaches,sand makes the best substrate. Coarse sand should be avoided, since it can cut into acrab’s tender claws. Fine sand is also inappropriate, since it can clog the gills, so choose amedium grade. The sand should be twice the height of the largest crab in the enclosure.This will make it easier for the crabs to burrow. If the substrate is spot cleaned daily, itwill only need changing every 2-3 months.Tempature: Not too hot, not too cold A constant temperature of around 72-75ba will be mostcomfortable. This can be maintained by keeping their enclosure in a room with the properambient temperature. An under-tank heating pad placed beneath one part of the tank canalso be used to create a thermal gradient.Lighting: The like a 12-hour photo period Hermit crabs have no special lightingrequirements, aside from regular 12-hour day and night periods. Though they’renocturnal by nature, in captivity they are often active in the daytime provided theirlighting is not too harsh.Diet: They’re light eaters Hermit crabs do not have big appetites. They eat very slowlytaking tiny bites, so they should be offered very small portions (a couple of pellets perfeeding of commercial dry hermit crab food). This food should form the basis of the diet,together with tidbits of fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, tuna fish or crackers. SinceHermit Crabs are light eaters, don’t be alarmed if their food appears untouched. Removeuneaten food daily, remembering to look for any pieces that may have been hidden away.A small scallop shell can be used instead of a regular food dish as well as lookingdecorative and taking up less floor space, it will gradually leach calcium into the food.They need it kept moist Hermit crabs breathe through gills, so moist air is essential totheir health and well-being. If the air becomes too dry, the crabs’ gills will dry out andthey’ll die. Gently mist the enclosure with dechlorinated water to keep the humidity ataround 70%, using a hygrometer to monitor the levels. Placing a water bowl over theheated area will also help increase humidity levels. If the enclosure tends to dry out tooquickly, try blocking off some of the ventilation holes or placing a damp towel over part of the lid. Be aware of factors in the room that can lower humidity, such as centralheating. Hermit crabs need two dishes of water, one fresh and one salt. All water mustfirst be dechlorinated, and the salt water prepared by mixing aquarium salt, never tablesalt, with the previously dechlorinated water. The dishes need to be shallow enough for the crabs to climb into, but deep enough for the water to come about halfway up the shell.Put a small piece of sponge in the middle of the dish – this helps prevent drowning andallows the crabs to sip the water more easily. The animals will soak themselves in bothdishes, and may “scoop their poop” into the water, so change it regularly. Replace thesponge frequently, too.How To Handle Hermit CrabsThe hermit crab’s strong claws can inflict a painful pinch, so grasp it firmly with thethumb and forefinger at the back of the shell. Place your other hand an inch or twobeneath the crab in case it falls.Hermit crabs are not aggressive creatures, and will only pinch if they think they are aboutto fall. If pinched, never try to pull the crab off – this will just make it hold on eventighter. Keep calm, and run your hand under lukewarm water until the crab relaxes itsgrip.Most crabs will sit happily on a tightly outstretched palm – avoid cupping the palm at all,so that the crab can find nothing to grab hold of. Eventually most crabs learn to enjoyexploring, often climbing up their owner’s arms. When playing with a crab, sit down on asoft floor and watch the crab at all times so that it does not escape or get crushed. Takecare that it does not drop – a fall from even the smallest height may crack its shell andkill it.Hermit Crab MoltingAs hermit crabs grow, they eventually need to shed their hard exoskeleton and grow anew, larger one. It is difficult for even the most experienced keeper to tell when a crab isabout to molt, but there are a few clues to watch out for. A strong butterscotch aromaaround the enclosure is a sure sign that one of the inhabitants is ready to molt this crabmay then become inactive or bury itself in the substrate. Do not disturb the animal – if itwere dead, it would have a pungent fishy odor.Molting is a very vulnerable time for a hermit crab, since other crabs find the exoskeletontantalizingly delicious, and may very well start to munch on it before the defenseless crabhas completely shed it. If possible, isolate the molting crab from the others in a separateenclosure, scooping up the substrate for several inches around and beneath the animal inorder to disturb it as little as possible.Keep the isolated crab’s enclosure humid and warm, and provide at least half a dozenclean, unpainted shells in different shapes and sizes. After couple of weeks or so the crabwill begin to move around again, and any lost limbs will have regenerated themselves.Leave the crab in isolation for a few days longer, allowing it to eat its own shedexoskeleton if it wishes to, since this provides it with vital nutrients.Bright Idea: It’s a good idea to space tank accessories so there’s a longempty area at the front of the enclosure. Many crabs like to sprint upand down their tank, so a good clear run gives them plenty of room toexercise.Look Out For This:Though some crabs stay in the same shell for years, otherswill switch regularly. To avoid fights, make sure there arealways plenty of clean, empty shells in the enclosure. Theshells should be unpainted, appropriate to the size of thecrabs, and must not have any

    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      4 years ago from New Jersey

      My children have had them and they are kind of interesting while they last. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      These are very interesting creatures. Thanks a lot!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This looks so fun. I've seen them at pet stores occasionally, maybe someday I'll have to get some.


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