Breeding hermit crabs can be quite a tricky task and it’s difficult to have successful results on the first try.
This is why most of the time, the hermit crabs you’ll see in pet stores are taken from the wild.
If you still want to give it a go, check out this handy hermit crab breeding guide to learn more about their mating habits and reproduction process.
Hermit crabs aren’t asexual, so they can produce babies when a male and female mate. These hermit crab babies are usually born in the ocean, which is why it’s difficult to find them anywhere else.
A fully grown female hermit crab can birth up to 50,000 babies at a time. Smaller hermit crabs can produce at least 800 babies.
Because of predators and unfavorable environmental conditions, they give birth to thousands of offspring. This is to ensure that a good number will still survive.
Hermit crabs do lay eggs instead of birthing live young. The female hermit crab will carry them around for about a month until they’re fully developed.
Hermit crabs lay extremely small, spherical eggs which is why they can fit so many inside their shells.
The eggs start off with a brick-red color and are all clumped together. As the eggs develop, they’ll turn light blue or gray.
Once the eggs are ready, female hermit crabs will drop them into the ocean. They might even climb a tree to do so. The eggs will hatch as soon as they make contact with the salt water.
When they’re newly hatched, baby hermit crabs come in the form of larvae called zoea. It’ll take about two months before terrestrial hermit crabs are ready to move to the shore.
First, female hermit crabs release a pheromone that signifies they’re ready for mating. Once the male hermit crabs have detected this pheromone, they’ll then fight over who gets to mate with her using their claws.
When one of the males wins and the female is still interested, they’ll proceed to mate. Usually, the male will hold onto the female with one of its claws during the mating process. The male may also tap, stroke, or rock the female’s shell to coax her out.
They can both stay inside their own shells while mating. This is to protect themselves and to prevent other hermit crabs from stealing their shells.
Hermit crabs mate with their abdomens in contact. This allows the male to deposit spermatozoa into the female’s gonopores (her genital openings) before they disengage.
This is where things get tricky. Hermit crabs need to have the proper environment to mate and breed successfully.
Mating usually occurs in the water rather than the sand. The ocean also provides their offspring with the right temperature and food that they’ll need in order to survive to adulthood.
Even though females still enter breeding season while in captivity, they’ll usually reject any male’s advances by hiding in their shell.
That being said, while it’s a challenging process, you can still attempt to breed your own hermit crabs.
You can tell if you have a male or female hermit crab just by checking its legs. A male’s legs will all be hairy while a female’s legs are smooth.
Females also have three appendages on the side of their abdomen. They use these to carry and protect their eggs.
A female hermit crab’s sexual organs, the gonopores, look like tiny openings or black dots just above their third set of legs. If your hermit crab doesn’t have these, then you’ve got yourself a male.
To find these indicators, just hold your hermit crab gently by the shell and turn them upside down. When they emerge from the shell, you can then check their legs and sexual organs.
You can’t really force hermit crabs to mate if they don’t want to. This is why you’ll need to construct the ideal environment that encourages them to breed.
Some of the things you’ll need are a 10-gallon tank with a lid, a heat rock or lamp, sand substrate, and a vessel for their saltwater area.
You can also provide your hermit crabs with a ramp so they can easily access the saltwater.
To make saltwater at home, you’ll need to use filtered or bottled water and aquarium salt.
Here are other items you’ll need to monitor and maintain the environment in your breeding tank:
- Garden sprayer
- Toys (for climbing, hiding, and other recreation)
- Water pump
Before transferring your hermit crabs to their breeding tank, you’ll need to make sure it’s ready for them first. The minimum size would be a 10-gallon tank so they’ll have enough space.
Pour about 2 inches of sand into the tank to recreate a beach. It should be enough for your hermit crab to burrow and hide in it.
In places with a tropical climate, you can keep your enclosure outdoors so your hermit crabs can feel like they’re in their natural habitat.
Once you’ve got your tank, you’ll need to create an area that’ll mimic the ocean. This is where the female hermit crab will eventually lay her eggs.
To make your own saltwater, mix one tablespoon of aquarium salt for every cup of filtered or bottled water. Remember not to use regular table salt because the iodine in it is harmful to hermit crabs.
Install a water pump to keep the water in your little ocean moving. This will help encourage your hermit crabs to breed.
Set up a ramp to the ocean area so that your hermit crabs can have easy access to the water.
You’ll need to replace this water regularly, making sure that it’s always salted before putting it back in the breeding tank.
You’ll need to keep the water in the tank at around 72 to 85℉, while the outside temperature should be steady at around 75℉.
You can maintain the temperature using a heat rock. Check in with your enclosure every once in a while and keep an eye on the temperature with a thermometer.
It’s also important to place the enclosure away from direct sunlight to keep a consistent temperature.
To keep the humidity at 80%, you may mist the enclosure using a garden sprayer. Keep the sand moist as well. You can measure the humidity using a hygrometer.
Create a relaxing atmosphere and scenery for your hermit crabs by adding some logs, branches, and vines. This will give them plenty of places to hide.
Keeping your hermit crabs comfortable and content will encourage them to breed.
Hermit crabs aren’t usually bred in captivity, but you can try to match their normal breeding season from February to August (typically June and July). Breeding them during spring and summer will ensure that the weather is warm enough.
Keep an eye out for signs of molting so you can start preparing your breeding tank during the process. Wait until the female hermit crab is back to normal before introducing her to the breeding tank.
With males and females in a shared tank, you can tell if a female hermit crab is ready to mate when males seem to be surrounding her.
A female hermit crab that’s medium-sized and about one year old would be your best candidate for breeding. There’s a better chance if she’s just gone through molting.
The older the hermit crab, the less likely she is to be receptive to males.
You’ll need to handle your hermit crab so you can verify its sex. You can do this several times until she’s comfortable with it.
For her male counterpart, select a mature hermit crab. Females usually prefer males that are larger than them.
Successful mating largely depends on the female hermit crab. If she doesn’t respond to the male inside the breeding tank, don’t switch her out just yet.
Keep introducing a different male hermit crab every day until you’ve exhausted all options. Remember that it’s quite rare to be able to breed hermit crabs in captivity, so don’t be too disappointed if nothing happens.
You’ll know if they’re both interested in mating when the male hermit crab approaches the female and rocks her shell. The female would then either emerge from her shell or hide further in it.
If the male hermit crab has successfully deposited its spermatozoa, the female will likely go into the saltwater area to lay her eggs. You may leave them both in the breeding tank to keep each other company.
The female hermit crab will carry the eggs with her while they develop, which takes about 30 days. You may find clusters of these tiny eggs on the female’s body.
When you see the eggs turn from red to gray, this means they’re about ready to hatch.
Since female hermit crabs would usually drop their eggs in the ocean, it’s important that they believe the saltwater pool in their enclosure is the same thing.
If all goes well, she should do this herself. If not, you may try helping her by dipping her shell in the water.
Gently gyrate the shell in the water to dislodge the eggs. They should hatch as soon as they make contact with the saltwater.
Your baby hermit crabs will stay in the saltwater for about 60 days. During this time, you’ll need to feed them powdered spirulina, marine infusoria, or thawed zooplankton. You’ll still need to change the saltwater regularly too.
When the larvae come out of the water, you may start placing small, conical shells in the tank for them to choose from.
Transfer them to their own transition tank before introducing them to your other hermit crabs. You’ll need to wait until they’re large enough so that the older crabs can’t harm them.
It’s quite rare for anyone to be able to successfully breed hermit crabs. They’re extremely particular about their partners and the environment they’re in, which makes it difficult to do when they’re in captivity.
Your best bet is to recreate their natural habitat to encourage their breeding instincts. You need to make sure that they’re happy, healthy, and comfortable enough before they can even get into the mood.
Even though this is a challenging task, we hope this hermit crab breeding guide has been helpful to you!
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.