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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A lot of people will tell you that keeping a hermit crab is easy work because this little buddy isn’t as high-maintenance as other pets. However, what you may not know is that it can be relatively hard to keep hermit crabs alive for a long while in captivity.
But how long do hermit crabs live anyway?
Hermit crabs are able to live for 30 years if they stay in an environment that caters to their needs perfectly. Yet, many hermit crabs don’t make it past a few months or a few years, which makes you wonder what leads to this strange decline in their life expectancy.
Not to worry, though, because we’ll discuss the topic of hermit crab lifespans in this article. We’ll compare their estimated lifetime in captivity vs. in the wild, the reasons behind the difference in these values, and what to do to boost your crab’s lifespan.
Let’s get to it!
How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live As Pets?
Unfortunately, hermit crabs are known for having relatively short lifespans as pets. This is because it can be challenging for their owners to duplicate their natural habitats.
Therefore, many hermit crabs live to be three or four years of age before they pass away.
Still, pet parents who go to incredible lengths to make their hermit crabs comfortable in their new home are often rewarded. If you take proper care of your little friend and pay attention to its various needs, it might grow to be 15 or 20 years old.
Keep in mind that it can be extra hard for a crab in captivity to have the same lifespan as a wild crab, but it’s not impossible.
Once you identify the causes behind pet hermit crabs’ high mortality rates, you should have better control over these factors. They can help you make sure your buddy lives a long, healthy life.
How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live in the Wild?
Hermit crabs that thrive in their native lands have a huge advantage over those kept as pets. Therefore, it’s only natural for the former to end up with extended lifespans of 30 to 40 years. Quite impressive, don’t you think?
However, you should know that just because they live in their natural habitat doesn’t mean they can’t have shorter lifespans.
While its environmental needs are mostly met, the life expectancy of a wild hermit crab is affected by several factors. We’ll discuss this later on in depth.
Why Is There a Huge Difference in Life Expectancy Between Pet Hermit Crabs and Wild Hermit Crabs?
We’ll admit; it’s quite unsettling that the average lifespan of a pet hermit crab is only around two to 15 years, while that of a wild crab can go beyond 30 years. The reasons behind this significant difference can be both natural and not.
In the wild, hermit crabs have optimal surroundings. Their food, water, humidity, and temperature requirements are perfect, which leads to them having overall better health than those kept in captivity.
Luckily, this is something you can control. Yet, a lot of people might neglect one of these factors or two, which will cause the lifespan of their hermit crabs to become shorter.
Toxicity and Infection Risks
In addition to that, wild hermit crabs aren’t normally subject to toxic materials or unsanitary surroundings.
Unfortunately, some pet owners don’t pay attention to these small details when they bring hermit crabs home. For example, they’ll locate their crabs next to sources of fumes or provide them with contaminated tap water, both of which may be fatal to those delicate beings.
Plus, hermit crabs are more likely to get annoying bacterial or fungal infections as pets than in their natural habitat. This is usually due to living in an unclean enclosure.
Stress and Traumas
Sadly, hermit crabs are more prone to stress and traumas in captivity than they are in the wilderness. A lot of this has to do with the way their owners behave around them, but sometimes, heightened stress is a result of being taken away from their natural homes.
If that’s the case, it’s something that a pet owner has no control over, given that they provided a suitable environment for their little friends.
As for traumas, hermit crabs get those as pets if you handle them incorrectly or carelessly dump them into their enclosure. Also, trying to climb a rock or any accessories that you keep in their enclosure, and then falling over and over, could be traumatic for a hermit crab.
While there’s no guarantee that hermit crabs won’t be attacked by other animals in the wild, it’s still a cause that affects their mortality rates in captivity.
If you keep your hermits in the same enclosure as bigger crabs, the larger bad boys will definitely pick at the small creatures. These aren’t optimal conditions for hermit crabs.
Plus, owners who have other pets, especially cats, may be exposing their hermits to more danger. Cats are curious creatures, so they might bother the hermits by tapping on their tank’s glass, increasing the little guys’ stress levels.
One of the most common reasons for the shortened lifespan of a hermit crab in captivity is accidental mutilation by its owner. But how is this possible?
See, a lot of people aren’t familiar with the process of molting, where a crab burrows into the substrate of their tank and gets rid of its exoskeleton. Many owners mistake a molting crab for a dead crab, so they’ll interrupt their crab during this sensitive phase.
When people handle a crab before it’s done molting, that can, unfortunately, lead to mutilation, further health issues, then passing.
In the wild, crabs have all the time that they need to molt and grow without interruptions.
Most hermit crabs that people have as pets are of the land variety. In other words, these crabs don’t need to be always submerged in water to lead healthy lives; they just require a flat bowl of water for drinking and bathing.
However, some owners might leave deeper water bowls in their crabs’ enclosure, which isn’t recommended for hermit crabs. One might easily fall into the bowl and be unable to get out, so it’ll become trapped and eventually drown.
Of course, there’s no chance of this happening in the wild since the crabs have the liberty to get into and out of the water as they please.
What Are Some Factors That Affect a Hermit Crab’s Lifespan in the Wild?
It’s not always butterflies and rainbows in the wild, either. While it’s far better for a hermit crab’s well-being, living out in the wilderness has its own challenges for such a tiny creature.
There’s no shortage of natural predators that feed on hermit crabs in the wild; hermit crabs are vulnerable enough to be at the bottom of the food chain.
Bigger crabs, fish, birds, and octopi like to prey on hermit crabs.
Yet, those little crabs have neat tricks to avoid predators. Adult crabs will move to the land to escape marine bad boys, and they’ll retreat to their shells if they feel threatened by a land predator.
Changes in the Environment
Unfortunately, being in their natural habitat isn’t always a plus point for hermit crabs because their environment is subject to several changes. These aren’t always for the better.
For example, natural occurrences like floods and high tides increase the chances of drowning because hermits don’t breathe underwater. Yet, some environmental changes aren’t natural.
The problem of waste has effects on the mortality rates of hermit crabs as much as it has on all marine life. Many times, a crab will wedge its way into a plastic bottle or a can to make a new home out of it, but it’ll be unable to get out.
After being trapped inside for a long period of time, there’ll be no oxygen left for the crab to breathe, leading to its demise.
How Long Do Different Hermit Crab Species Live?
Did you know that there are various hermit crab species that have different life expectancies? In this section, we’ll give you a rundown of how long each one of those species lives.
- Coenobita clypeatus: 30 to 40 years in the wild or up to 15 years as a pet
- Coenobita compressus: 30 years in the wild or up to ten years as a pet
- Coenobita perlatus: 25 to 30 years in the wild or one to four years as a pet
- Coenobita rugosus: 15 years in the wild or up to seven years as a pet
What to Do to Increase the Lifespan of a Pet Hermit Crab?
Now that you’re familiar with all the things that come into play to shorten or lengthen a crab’s lifespan, it’s time to use this knowledge to your advantage.
In this section, we’ll offer you a few tips on how to take care of your pet hermit crab so that it can stay alive for as long as possible.
Provide a Comfortable Environment for Your Crabs
The first thing you should do before you bring hermit crabs home is to shop for a suitable enclosure and then prepare it so that it caters to their needs.
Let’s start by saying that the enclosure must be glass, not plastic. Plastic tanks don’t keep humidity or temperature levels steady inside them, which isn’t an ideal environment for a crab.
The next thing you should keep in mind when buying a tank for your hermits is the size. A 2.5-gallon enclosure is good enough for seven small or four medium crabs. Also, make sure the lid has several holes in it for ventilation.
After buying the right type of glass tank, it’ll be time to outfit it with several items to make it more comfortable for your crab:
- Fill the tank with substrate until it’s six inches deep
- Spread shells of different sizes in the enclosure to act as your crabs’ homes when they grow later (ensure they’re not painted to ward off risks of toxicity)
- Include rocks and pieces of driftwood in the tank to duplicate the natural habitat of hermit crabs (clean them thoroughly before putting them in the tank)
- Place two shallow water bowls in the tank, one for fresh water and another for salt water (use marine salt for the latter)
Monitor the Humidity and Temperature Levels in the Tank Closely
The next thing to do is to maintain the right humidity and temperature levels inside the enclosure to ensure the well-being of your hermit crab further.
Hermit crabs thrive in temperatures between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and the optimum humidity levels for them are between 70% and 80%.
To make sure the levels are correct, place a thermometer and a hygrometer in the tank. If they go slightly over or under the recommended values, you’ll have to make adjustments to the room’s environment accordingly.
Here are a few general guidelines you can follow:
- Provide a safe heat source next to the tank to reach the required temperature
- Consider moving the tank to another room that’s warmer or cooler
- Install a humidifier into the enclosure or place larger bowls of water in it (always make sure they aren’t too deep)
Keep the Tank Clean At All Times
A clean tank means no room for bacteria, parasites, or diseases to spread or hurt your cute hermit crabs. Therefore, it’s important to check the substrate of the tank daily to get rid of any waste or leftover food.
Also, make sure to change the water in both bowls regularly to keep harmful microorganisms at bay.
Plus, you’ll have to replace the substrate layer with a fresh one after six months of your crabs living on and molting in it.
If you notice any mites roaming about the tank, wash all the contents inside of it with marine salt water. Afterward, get rid of the substrate and put a new one in its stead.
Feed Your Crabs a Healthy, Nutritious Diet
Thankfully, hermit crabs are pretty low-maintenance when it comes to food, so they don’t require a specific kind of fish food. Still, they won’t say no to fish pellets; you’re welcome to give them some if you already have fish food packages within reach.
If not, hermit crabs will love to munch on anything from bread and cereal to fresh fruits and vegetables. Just experiment with a little bit of this and that to see what has their attention.
As for portions, it’s best to present food to your crabs in small amounts at first. If you check up on them the next day and find they’ve eaten it all, increase their portions the next day.
One final piece of advice: make sure to feed your crabs in the evening. Being nocturnal, this time of the day is best for a delicious meal!
Pay Attention to How You Handle Your Hermit Crabs
As incorrect handling of crabs is one of the reasons why they have shorter lifespans as pets, it’s time to learn the proper way to do it.
Of course, if you limit contact with your crab, it would be best because such a delicate creature becomes stressed out quickly. However, you can still pick yours up from time to time, keeping the following precautions in mind:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before picking up your crab
- Hold your crab by the shell and gently raise it to the palm of your hand or a flat, soft surface
- Don’t put it on a high surface in case it moves and falls to the floor (hard falls can be traumatic to hermit crabs)
- Avoid handling the tiny creature right after bringing it home, giving it a few days to adjust to its new surroundings
Don’t Touch the Crabs During the Molting Process
Last but not least, know that molting is a crucial part of a hermit crab’s lifestyle. Occurring once or twice a year, molting involves shedding the exoskeleton and burrowing into the sand for some privacy.
Don’t be alarmed when they become inactive and secretive; they’re not sick. During this sensitive time, you should leave your crabs be until they’re completely done molting.
Another thing you should know about is that hermit crabs will sometimes eat the skin that they shed, which is absolutely normal. In fact, their ex-skin can be a great source of calcium!
How long do hermit crabs live?
It’s definitely a question worth finding an answer to, especially if you’re new to the world of hermit crab parenting.
In the wild, hermit crabs of different species can live up to 30 or 40 years. On the other hand, they tend to have shorter lifespans in captivity, ranging from one to seven years.
Still, if you take proper care of your crab, you might be able to extend its longevity further. It’s all about maintaining the right environment for it, giving it healthy food, keeping pests at bay, and avoiding too much handling.