Compared to common pets (dogs and cats, we’re looking at you!), not as many people talk about how owners should interact with hermit crabs and look after them.
Granted, hermies may not be as cuddly, but they deserve much more attention as they’re super fascinating to observe and tons of fun to play with!
This brings us to today’s question: how do you handle hermit crab care?
To provide a thorough answer, we’ll need to take a closer look at these cute crustaceans and their habitat requirements.
Today’s guide discusses the ins and outs of keeping hermit crabs, from the ideal conditions of their tanks to their diet, playtime, tankmates, health, and more. Let’s get started!
Yes, hermit crabs are easy to take care of. They’re actually very low maintenance, which makes them suitable for beginners.
Hermit crabs are hypoallergenic and odorless, so folks with allergies or those who appreciate scent-free pets have nothing to worry about with these little creatures. Additionally, they don’t carry any known diseases, so you’re safe as a whistle having them around.
Hermit crabs are also quite simple to keep. They aren’t fussy about food, they aren’t very demanding when it comes to tank conditions, and they don’t even need that much space.
Hermit crabs hail from the tropical regions of northern Australia. They mainly live in the coastal dune forests where they can access fresh water, but they also migrate to the shoreline every week for a dip in the salt water.
The best way to ensure that your hermit crab habitat (also known as ‘crabitat’) is safe and comfortable enough for these animals to thrive is to have it mimic the environment of their natural homes.
The following sections explain how you can adjust tank size and conditions -such as temperature, humidity, and water- to get the job done.
A tank of capacity 10 or 20 gallons is large enough to house 2 to 4 small hermit crabs. 20 or 40 gallons is big enough for 2 to 4 adult hermits.
Keep in mind that hermit crabs are social animals that require at least two other hermit crabs to stay healthy and not feel lonely.
Since they’re tropical animals, hermit crabs prefer warmer temperatures. The ideal range is between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
You don’t want to raise the temperature too much or you’ll risk irreversible damage to the hermit crabs. However, lowering the temperature too much can slow down the animal’s metabolism.
To maintain proper temperature, you may need to use an under-tank heater.
Hermit crabs need a certain level of humidity to maintain their gills moist for breathing and help in molting. Lack of adequate humidity is the most common cause of hermit crab death in enclosures.
Generally, you should keep the humidity levels inside the tank between 75 percent and 90 percent. You can achieve this by daily misting using dechlorinated water.
As nocturnal animals, hermit crabs don’t need bright light. A low-wattage incandescent bulb is enough for viewing at night if desired, but make sure its size is suitable for the tank’s size.
Keep a low-wattage bulb on for about 10 to 12 during the day to help your hermit crabs regulate their bodily functions and behaviors as you imitate the natural light cycle.
Place 2 shallow dishes of water -one with marine saltwater and one with fresh, dechlorinated water. To help your hermit crabs climb in and out of the dishes, place a natural sponge in each one.
Mix commercial sand with commercial coconut fiber bedding and, if possible, incorporate sphagnum moss as well. Keep the sand moist to stick together but not soaking wet.
The depth of the substrate layer should be 3 inches minimum to provide enough room for the hermit crabs to dig and molt.
For decor, provide toys for climbing and hiding such as natural rocks, coral, branches, logs, driftwood, and plastic plants. This is necessary for your hermit crabs to stay active and stimulated both physically and mentally.
You should provide your hermit crabs with a well-balanced, varied, and steady diet. Ideally, it’d consist of high-quality, commercial hermit crab food in addition to other types of food as follows:
- Vegetables (for example, kale, spinach, lettuce, and carrots)
- Non-citrus fruits (for example, shredded coconut, mangoes, apples, and papaya)
- Brine shrimp
- Fish flakes
When feeding your hermit crab, keep the tips below in mind:
- Use bowls made of plastic or other nonporous, nonmetal materials. This is because porous bowls are practically impossible to disinfect and hermit crabs are sensitive to metal.
- Remove any food that isn’t eaten within the day.
- Provide fresh, chlorine-free, clean water around the clock. Hermit crabs enjoy soaking in water and will often drink while.
- Feed your hermit crabs at night as this goes in line with their natural nocturnal lifestyle.
- Crush any pelleted foods before giving them to your hermies.
Hermit crabs aren’t really crabs per se. They’re more closely related to some species of lobster such as squat lobsters.
Hermit crabs aren’t classified as true crabs because their bodies don’t possess a hard exoskeleton all over and they’re unable to grow shells on their own.
Instead, hermit crabs have shell-less, soft abdomens with only the front halves of their bodies shielded in a hard exoskeleton.
The tail sections of their bodies are left uncovered, which is why they need a shell to protect these vulnerable parts not only from predators, but also from exposure to harsh sun rays, heat, and air.
Typically, hermit crabs get their shells from other animals -mostly snails- or other hermit crabs that discarded their old shells, died, or lost in a shell fight against other hermies.
As they grow, hermies shed or molt to get rid of the outer layer of their skin and form a new one. The bigger their bodies get, the more they need to abandon their current shells and move into bigger ones.
Molting is an extremely stressful time for a hermit crab that can last several weeks.
Just before they start molting, hermit crabs feed and drink in significant amounts. After that, they begin digging into the substrate of their habitat so they can bury themselves for the duration of the molt.
The physical appearance of a hermit crab preparing to molt consists of a fading exoskeleton that turns into a dull gray color. This is usually accompanied by a glazed look in the hermie’s eyes.
In this case, you should make sure that the molting hermit crab is undisturbed. Here are a few tips to manage the molting process:
- Before the molt starts, separate the molting hermit crab from the rest of the tank mates.
- Don’t grab or touch your hermit crab while it’s molting.
- Never dig up a buried hermit crab until it’s done molting and comes out on its own. This can be fatal.
- Once the molt ends, have a few bigger shells ready for the emerging hermit crab as it’ll be missing its shell. You can recycle its previous shell for a younger hermit crab as long as it hasn’t been damaged during molting.
- After it chooses and settles into a shell, return the hermit crab to the original tank.
Hermit crabs are very social animals. In the wild, they live and travel in large packs.
So when you keep them as pets, you need to have at least 2 hermit crabs living together —- the more, the merrier given that the tank is big enough to house all of them comfortably.
Don’t introduce different invertebrate species to a hermit crab tank. Also, you should keep in mind that while it’s normal for hermit crabs to climb over each other, push each other, or even snap their claws at each other as a form of communication or playfulness.
That said, sometimes hermit crabs can get too aggressive toward each other as they engage in shell fights that may result in serious injuries or even death.
As such, you should closely monitor your hermit crabs to prevent such incidents.
If you witness your hermit crabs getting into a shell fight, you should immediately intervene.
- Start by removing the aggressor from the main tank to a separate container.
- Then, provide a variety of shells for the isolated crab. Make sure you include shells of different shapes, sizes, and weights to give the unhappy fellow plenty of options for choosing a suitable shell.
- After the isolated hermit crab picks a shell and gets used to it, it’s time you return it to the main tank while keeping an eye on its behavior for a few days to ensure a smooth transition.
A hermit crab in good shape demonstrates a healthy appetite, plenty of activity, and regular molting.
When a hermit crab is unhealthy, you can detect this by observing signs such as lethargy (decreased activity), abandoning its shell and not re-entering it, loss of appetite, excessive molting, unpleasant odor and/or discharge from its shell, and loss of limbs or claws.
As for common health issues in hermit crabs to watch out for, these include the following:
Stress in hermit crabs can lead to physical problems and death. It can be triggered by improper conditions of the habitat such as extreme temperatures, lack of humidity, or poor cleanliness.
Hermit crabs can also stress from living alone, bullying, overcrowding, or being dropped on their shells.
If you notice tiny black mites appear on your hermit crab(s) or within the habitat, you’re probably dealing with mites.
To resolve this, you need to clean the tank and all of its contents thoroughly. You should also replace the entire substrate portion.
Additionally, take out the hermit crabs and bathe them in lukewarm, dechlorinated water. Don’t return your pets to clean the tank before you make sure there are no mites visible on them.
Mites are attracted to food that’s been sitting out (inside the tank) for a long time, as well as to soiled bedding and sponges.
Hermit crabs are often poisoned by detergents and cleaning sprays that owners use to clean their habitats without realizing their side effects. They can even be fatal.
As such, you need to avoid using any chemicals when cleaning the tank.
Also, don’t use chemical products such as air fresheners and hair sprays near your hermit crabs’ habitat. When you take your hermit crab out of the tank, don’t place it on surfaces cleaned with harsh chemicals such as carpet.
If your hermit crab is poisoned, you’ll notice behavioral changes including an inability to carry its shell, sitting in water without its shell, and pulling off its limbs (affected areas).
We already talked about providing your hermit crabs with toys, hiding spaces, and climbing surfaces inside their tank to ensure they get their daily fill of physical and mental stimulation.
But what about playing with hermit crabs outside of the tank? You can definitely do it as long as you stick to the following guidelines:
- Pick up your hermit crab by the shell to transfer it outside of the enclosure. Make sure your grip is firm but gentle.
- Never grab your hermit crab by its body. Not only will you risk injuring it, but you may fall victim to its pinch.
- It’s best not to handle/grasp your hermit crab too often as they’re not big fans of touching.
- Once you pick up your hermit crab, carefully place it on the ground.
- Never put your hermit crab on high surfaces such as a chair or table because its poor vision makes it vulnerable to falling when it can’t tell where the surface ends.
- Allow your hermit crab to roam and explore, but keep a close eye on it the entire time to ensure its safety.
- Don’t let your hermit crab crawl into tight corners or move toward stairs.
- If you’re inside a room, it’s best to close the door to keep your pet contained and limit the dangerous situations it could get into.
- Never remove your hermit crab from its shell.
- Never pull on your hermit crab’s limbs.
- Never pull your hermit crab from an object it’s clinging to. While ripped limbs may grow back, there’s no guarantee the injury won’t be too serious to survive.
- Don’t take your hermit crab out of its tank for more than 1 hour as it’ll want to eat, drink, defecate, and rest.
Taking care of baby hermit crabs involves providing suitable tank sizes and conditions as we discussed above. You should also follow the same instructions and guidelines when it comes to diet, cleanliness, playtime, and health issues.
Hermit crab care isn’t as complicated as many people think. These animals are generally low maintenance and a delight to observe and interact with, so don’t hesitate to keep them as pets even if you’re a beginner!
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.