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Do Hermit Crabs Pinch? (And What to Do If It Happens)

Do Hermit Crabs Pinch? (And What to Do If It Happens)

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.

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If you are looking for a cuddly critter that you can snuggle with, a hermit crab probably isn’t the right pet for you! These fascinating creatures use their large front claws to feel their way through the world, and if your fingers happen to be in its path, they may just be mistaken for a fun obstacle to hang onto.

Hermit crabs do pinch, especially if they feel threatened, hungry, or afraid. They use their pincers to try to hang onto things, particularly if they picked up from above and feel insecure. Holding a hermit crab gently on a flat, outstretched palm will make it less likely that it can pinch you.

Depending on the size of the pincers, hermit crab pinches can range from hardly noticeable to really painful. Let’s go through how to prevent this from happening and what to do if you do get your skin in a hermit crab’s vice-like claw.

Do Hermit Crabs Pinch?

Like all crabs, hermit crabs do pinch. They don’t have fingers or hands, so their strong front claws are their unique adaptation to ward off enemies and scavenge around for tasty morsels.

Hermit crabs fit into a family of crustaceans referred to as decapods. These creatures have ten legs, of which the two front ones often have large pinchers.

A hermit crab will never intentionally pinch you unless it feels threatened. When you want to interact with your pet, move slowly and make sure that it sees you moving towards it so that it isn’t startled if you pick it up.

Children must always be supervised when handling hermit crabs as they do occasionally pinch, and a child may drop the crab in fright. Both the child and the crab may be injured by such an encounter.

Gently and slowly pick up your hermit crab by the back of the shell. Hold it securely so that you don’t accidentally drop it if it starts moving about.

One of the main reasons that will cause a hermit crab to grip onto a surface is because it feels insecure. They don’t want to fall as it could be life-threatening, so they cling onto anything that is closest for security, and that may, unfortunately, be your hand.

Keeping your hands close to the ground and interacting with your hermie at a level where it feels more secure often helps considerably to keep the crab more relaxed. If it does nip you, quickly put your hand at ground level, and it is likely to release and try to move off.

How to Handle Hermit Crabs Safely

Knowing how to handle your hermit crabs will mean that you can start enjoying your pets without constantly being worried about being pinched. The giant front pincers can be pretty menacing to look at, but they are one of the things that give hermit crabs their unique appearance.

Eight of your hermit crab’s legs are primarily used to move around. These are less impressive, spindly legs that often remain safely tucked inside the shell. The two front enlarged pincers are always visible, exploring, and sometimes in defense mode, and these are the ones that may deliver an occasional pinch.

Pet hermit crabs should be handled as little as possible. They are fascinating creatures to observe in their tank habitat, but unless you are moving them, cleaning the tank, giving them a soak, or doing a health check, they don’t need to be handled as it can stress them.

Hermit crabs should always be kept in pairs or several individuals in a correctly sized tank. They do not need human company to stay healthy and happy. It is far more important to regularly add stimulating new items to explore in their crabitat rather than handling them unnecessarily.

Luckily there are some commonsense tips that hermit crab owners should all know, which will keep all your fingers and your precious crabs perfectly safe.

  • Wear thick gloves – If you have a hermit crab and are a novice handler, it is better to wear hand protection like leather gloves until you have become used to how the crab moves. It is easy to be startled by their sudden jerky movements at first.
  • Lift gently from the top – Hermit crabs are securely attached to the inside of their shells. You can safely lift the little creature by holding the top of its shell. If you are holding your crab by its shell for more than a few seconds, and it has its body extended out, it will be able to reach your fingers where you have a grip, so keep on readjusting the position where you are holding the shell.
  • Provide support to its body – Like all animals, your hermit crab doesn’t want to fall from a high surface. If you pick it up by its shell and its body is dangling about, it is likely trying desperately to grab onto something to secure itself. If your skin happens to be the closest contact point, that will result in a painful pinch.

By supporting its body, a hermit crab is more likely to relax and be curious rather than desperately trying to hang onto the closest thing it can grip on to. If you need to inspect your hermit crab’s body, place your pet into an empty glass jug where it will feel secure and comfortable enough to come out of its shell, and you will be able to view its body from all angles safely.

You can even use the opportunity to give your crabs a quick water soak while they are in the jug –be sure only to use de-chlorinated water.

  • Place the hermit crab on the flat surface of your hand – Once you have lifted the crab out of its tank by its shell, you may want to hold it. A new or nervous hermit crab is likely to be defensive rather than curious, so observe the movements of your crab carefully.

If it just seems interested, place it feet first on the tightly outstretched palm of your hand where there is the least chance of it being able to find skin to clamp its pincers onto.

  • Always handle your hermit crabs close to the ground or over a soft surface, like a mattress. If you drop your pet, it is far less likely to result in an injury.

Try not to handle your pet over fibrous surfaces like carpets or let it walk off your hand onto surfaces where it may collect microscopic fibers or cleaning chemicals on its body.

  • Do not walk around while handling your hermit crab in your hand – Remain still and focused while interacting with your hermit crab. You must remain mindful of your environment so that the hermit crab does not become stressed.

If you need to transport your crabs, take the entire crabitat or place them into a secure glass jar, but never carry them about in your hands, even if they seem docile.

When Is the Best Time to Handle Hermit Crabs?

Before you start handling a new hermit crab that you just bought, it is essential to give it a few weeks to relax and adjust to its new environment. When you come near the tank, move slowly, so it has time to get used to your presence.

Fast movements around your hermit crab tank are likely to startle them. Crabs have compound eyes that quickly detect motion, so sudden activity in the environment will likely cause the hermit crab to withdraw into its shell in self-defense.

You will notice that your hermit crabs are more active at certain times of the day. These tiny scavengers are usually nocturnal, and anyone who lives near the coast will know that they can often be seen combing the coastline in the early evening.

Get to know your hermit crabs’ routine and interact with them during their most active phase. That way, you are more likely to be able to train them to take food from you, and they will be more curious about walking over your hands.

If your hermit crab is tightly pulled back into its shell, do not ever try to shake it or agitate it into coming out and interacting. These little animals are easily stressed and can die quickly.

Keeping your hermit crabs well fed and in an environment where all their needs are met in terms of space and stimulation will result in far more relaxed, healthy pets that will be curious when you interact with them.

Never try to interact with a hermit crab that is molting. This could quickly kill it as it is in its most vulnerable stage. If you are used to handling your hermit crabs regularly, you will have to be patient until your hermie has safely relocated to a new shell before you can resume holding it.

What to Do When a Hermit Crab Pinches You

If you own hermit crabs, sooner or later, you will be pinched. Staying calm and knowing what to do is critical to handling the situation so that you get the crab to release its painful grip as quickly as possible and, at the same time, don’t injure the hermit crab.

Let’s go through some things you should do if your hermit crab has a death-grip on your flesh.

  • Stay as calm as you can. You have prepared for this moment and knew it would hurt, so live in the moment and move through the steps you know.
  • DO NOT attempt to pull the hermit crab off your skin forcibly. This will inevitably lead to it tightening its grip to hold on.
  • Slowly and calmly lower your hand as close to the ground as possible. Better still, if you can, drop your hand onto the floor level of the crabitat as the crab will relax in its familiar environment and should release your hand.
  • Try to take deep breaths and keep your hand as relaxed as possible even though it hurts. Move into deliberate slow-motion mode. The fastest way to get a hermit crab to release its grip is to make it want to move away on its own so give it an attractive option of releasing and walking safely off your hand.
  • If this doesn’t work and the hermit crab is determinedly attached to your skin, try placing your hand in freshwater or saltwater. This usually causes the pinchers to release their grip instantly. DO NOT use regular tap water as the chemicals in the water may harm your hermit crab.
  • Do NOT ever try to flick or jerk your hand suddenly to loosen the hermie. The action could send the hermit crab flying, and it will get injured if it falls onto a hard surface.

Do Hermit Crabs Bite?

It is totally impossible to be bitten by a hermit crab. They have tiny mouthparts that are set back behind their protective front pincers. It also doesn’t have teeth, so there is no chance that your hermit crab can bite you.

However, if you own a hermit crab, the odds are good that you may get pinched by its strong front pincers, especially if it feels threatened or afraid. Depending on the size of your pet hermit crab and how much skin it has managed to clasp onto, it can be painful, especially while trying to get it to release its grip gently.

Even if you get pinched by a hermit crab, the injury does not carry any risk of disease like some other domestic animal bites, so clean it well, and it will heal up just fine.

Final Thoughs

Hermit crabs use their giant front pincers to protect themselves and interact with their environment. If they feel insecure or afraid while being handled, it could result in a pinch.

Learning to handle your hermit crab safely is important to avoid painful pinches. Knowing what to do to get the hermit crab to release its grip is a vital piece of knowledge that all owners need to know ahead of time.