The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
When most people think of ants, they think of ants as a nuisance, which is often very true as they are unsightly and indicative that there is a pest problem in the place where they are found. For most people, the worst that an ant could do is bite, and even then, an ant bite is a mild irritant.
The situation changes drastically when it comes to ants being in a hermit crab habitat. Ants have proven to be a vicious enemy against hermit crabs, as they tunnel through the substrate and attack molting crabs to the point of death.
Among hermit crab enthusiasts, even seeing a single ant in a hermit crab habitat is cause for an emergency, and seeing many ants in a habitat means that you have to move all the hermit crabs to an emergency environment so you can fully clean out the entire habitat and everything inside of it.
Ants pose a massive threat to hermit crabs, especially hermit crabs that are molting and already vulnerable to the world around them.
In short, ants can and will kill hermit crabs, particularly molting ones, making it incredibly important that you keep your crab’s habitat entirely ant-free.
There are a few ways that you can work on preventing ants from entering the crab’s habitat, but, first things first; you need to know what to do if you spot ants inside the hermit crab enclosure so that you know how to act and how to keep your hermit crabs safe.
Taking Care of an Ant Emergency
While having ants in the home is not commonly considered an emergency, ants in the hermit crab’s home is an emergency and needs to be treated as such. You should act with urgency, as ants leave scent trails for other ants to follow, meaning that the longer you wait, the more ants are going to come and harm your hermit crabs.
If you spot ants in the same room as the hermit crab but not yet in the enclosure, you should still follow the same procedures so that you can fully prevent the ants from entering, but it should not be treated with the level of urgency as ants inside of the habitat.
First, you should have a solid idea of whether or not you have any molting hermit crabs. It is absolutely true that moving a molting hermit crab may injure or potentially kill it, as molting is an incredibly stressful process for hermit crabs, but this is better than the certain alternative of ants biting a molting and defenseless hermit crab to death.
If you do have molting hermit crabs, they should already ideally be in an isolation tank that you can work with. If you didn’t want to run the risk of moving them quite yet, this is the ideal time to move them to a freshly cleaned isolation-style tank so that they can continue their molt in safety and peace.
You should also work on setting up an emergency temporary housing system for the rest of your crabs to stay in while you work on cleaning out and replacing their current habitat so that it is ant-free. More often than not, these habitats are not going to be ideal for a long-term solution, but it is cheaper than purchasing a whole new setup for what will only be a few days of cleaning.
Because of this, though, keep in mind that any crabs that aren’t molting may exhibit signs of stress with the sudden change to an unfamiliar habitat, and they will likely be somewhat stressed when they are moved back. This is normal and to be expected with the situation.
You should also bathe any hermit crabs who aren’t molting (never, under any circumstances, bathe a molting hermit crab) so that any ants that have tried to make a home in their shells can be flushed out.
Their shells should be boiled and soaked to prevent any eggs the ants may have laid from staying and hatching, so spare shells must be provided, ideally not from the habitat that had the ants in it.
You will then want to wash, soak, and replace all the items in the ant-filled tank as necessary. Items that ants could hide or make a home in should either be tossed and replaced or cleaned as seen fit, while other objects such as food and water bowls or spare shells can be soaked to flush out any hiding ants or shells.
For the hermit crabs in the emergency habitat, you should only feed them dry and boring foods until you are sure that the ants are gone. While your crabs may not be too interested in the dry foods, it is important while you are cleaning the room of any traces of ants that you do not feed the crabs foods that could potentially attract the ants back to the location.
From here, you will then want to start cleaning the entire room that the ants were in. If you know where the ants got in from, you can work on blocking access there; otherwise, you will want to start cleaning from the tank outward to the rest of the room.
To disrupt the ants’ natural scent trails that they leave, you will want to make use of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice for cleaning out the habitat tank. Everything else in the room can be cleaned off with your standard room-cleaning materials.
Preventing Ants From Entering
Now that you know what you should do with your crabs when you see that there are ants in the habitat, and once you have moved all of your crabs into a safe and ant-free environment, you will want to focus on what you can do to protect your crabs as much as you can from the possibility of ants.
Because ants can enter from just about anywhere in the house, you will want to try to also work on practicing ant prevention measures outside of your crab’s habitat room and in other areas of the house as well, such as the kitchen.
This includes making sure that foods are put away and kept in airtight containers so that ants don’t have a reason to want to go exploring in the house. This applies especially to sweet or strong-smelling foods, which are particularly attractive to ants.
For your crab’s habitat, you will want to practice this by keeping your crab’s food in airtight containers and making sure to clean up any messes that your crabs might leave behind so that there is no reason for any ants to go exploring in the habitat. You will also want to try to make sure that if you live in an area that is prone to ant infestations, you purchase ant repellents.
Be mindful that none of the food you purchase has been sprayed or touched with any sort of pest repellent. A good rule of thumb to follow for this is that if it will hurt a bug of any sort, there’s a chance that it will hurt your crabs too, and the goal is to keep ants away from the crabs.
As for keeping ants away from your property, there are many different safe and effective methods of making your home unappealing to ants. For example, you could begin growing peppermint outside and on the windowsills, as peppermint is a scent that most bugs despise, effectively keeping them away from your home at no harm to you or any pets that you may have.
There are also many essential oils that you could put into other rooms of the house, especially rooms where there are many openings for ants to be interested in, that will keep ants from wanting to enter your house at no harm to you.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use these oils in the same room as your hermit crabs, as your hermit crabs will also not like the scent of them and may become stressed by it.
There are also a handful of “safe” ant killers that you can use outside of your home and even in certain areas of the home away from where your hermit crabs are located. These ant killers would cause harm to your hermit crabs, but it is also very unlikely that your hermit crabs would interact with them (for instance, boric acid cotton balls near a door on the other side of the house).
These “safe” killers include boric acid, diatomaceous earth (also known as silicon dioxide), a combination of glass cleaner and liquid detergents, and borax.
Many of these ant killers can cause harm to hermit crabs and other pets, so be careful when you are using them to keep them away from where your hermit crabs, other house pets, and children might be able to easily ingest or investigate them.
Again, with the nature of these ant killers, they should be used when there is a known infestation and simple preventative measures will not work to drive out ants that have already made a nest in your house; however, when you do choose to use them, they are highly effective at getting the job done, leaving your hermit crabs safe and happy to continue their lives.