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How to Tell If a Hermit Crab Is Dead (And What to Do If It Is)

How to Tell If a Hermit Crab Is Dead (And What to Do If It Is)

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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You love your pet hermit crab and you want to be able to enjoy it for a long time. It’s so much fun to observe the hermit crab and you likely watch it all the time.

If the hermit crab seems to stop moving for long periods of time, you’re going to get worried. Some owners might be concerned about whether the hermit crab has died or not.

Is there a good way to tell if a hermit crab is dead? What should you do in this situation?

Keep reading to learn about how you can tell if a hermit crab has passed away. This will ensure that you can tell what’s going on one way or another.

Is the Crab Molting?

You don’t want to do anything to the crab right away if you see that it isn’t moving. This is because there’s a chance that the crab is molting.

Crabs molt many times throughout their lives. Typically, hermit crabs are going to molt once every eighteen months.

Molting is a process where the hermit crab grows a new exoskeleton. It needs to do this as it continues to get larger because the exoskeleton doesn’t grow alongside the hermit crab.

When a hermit crab molts, it’ll bury itself in the sand. The hermit crab will likely be completely covered by the sand, but sometimes it might only be partially covered.

Molting takes quite some time and the hermit crab will remain motionless the entire time. You should expect it to take four to eight weeks for the hermit crab to finish molting.

You’re never supposed to disturb a hermit crab when it’s molting. Doing so can lead to significant health problems for the crab.

It could even cause the hermit crab to die. Many hermit crab owners who didn’t know better have killed their crabs by startling them while they were molting.

They get shocked to death when moved or touched while molting. This doesn’t occur every single time, but it’ll significantly stress the crab even if it does survive.

Shocking the crab while it’s molting might cause it to lose one or more legs. It’s easy to see why you’re supposed to leave the crab alone.

If a long time has passed and the crab still isn’t moving, it might be dead. You should wait a little while after the eight-week mark just to be sure.

How to Tell if a Hermit Crab Is Molting

There are some ways that you can tell if a hermit crab is molting without disturbing it. You should examine the crab to see how it looks.

First, you should know that some small crabs will molt more often than others. There are small crabs that grow fast and molt every few months.

It might be wise to look up molting information based on the hermit crab species that you own. Larger crabs might molt once every eighteen months or once every year depending on various factors.

If the tank doesn’t smell bad, it’s more likely that the crab is molting. It probably isn’t dead yet.

You can also look for the presence of a fat bubble on the crab’s body. Hermit crabs will eat more than usual to prepare for molting.

They store extra fat in a bubble that can typically be found on the left side under a hermit crab’s fifth pair of legs. If the hermit crab has a bubble, it’s a positive sign that it might be molting.

Give it a few more days and see if anything changes. If the crab seems to be still but the tank doesn’t smell bad, it’s likely that it’s simply molting.

You Should Protect Molting Hermit Crabs

If you have multiple hermit crabs in the tank, it’s wise to protect the hermit crabs that are molting. When other hermit crabs bother molting hermit crabs, it might cause them to die.

You can protect the molting hermit crab by placing a protective barrier around it. Often, hermit crab owners will cut two-liter bottles in half and use them to create a barrier around the molting hermit crab.

Place the bottle around the hermit crab and make it so the cap portion is open. You want air to be able to get to the hermit crab, but you want to keep the other crabs from bothering the molting crab.

You can sink the edges of the bottle into the sand so the hermit crab won’t be bothered. It’s a good way to ensure that the hermit crab will be fine while it completes the molting process.

Examine How the Tank Smells

When a hermit crab dies, it’s going to cause the tank to smell really bad. Truly, one of the most reliable ways to tell if a hermit crab has died involves smelling the tank.

Does the tank smell like rotting fish right now? If it does, that’s a sign that the hermit crab is likely dead.

When hermit crabs die, they will start to decompose. The rotten fish smell that you notice is the smell of decay.

Generally, this smell will be very noticeable and it’ll bother you quite a bit. Some people describe this smell as slightly salty and rotten.

Once you’ve experienced this smell, it’ll be rather easy to tell what the smell is moving forward. If you’ve yet to have a pet hermit crab die, it’ll still be simple to notice the smell.

How to Dispose of a Dead Hermit Crab

So what if the hermit crab is actually dead? What should you do with its body?

Disposing of a dead hermit crab isn’t too difficult. You want to dig the hermit crab up and then discard it in a way that you find to be appropriate.

There are a few acceptable ways to get rid of the crab’s body. One of the most common ways involves burying the crab outside somewhere in your yard.

The crab will simply decompose in the ground and that will be that. This is a convenient and simple way to discard a dead hermit crab.

If you don’t have the time to do this, it’s acceptable to throw the hermit crab away in the garbage. This might feel impersonal and offensive to some hermit crab owners, though.

Remember to wash your hands after handling the dead hermit crab. No matter which disposal method you choose, it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly.

Use antibacterial soap to wash your hands for your own safety. It’s also important to note that you should dispose of the sand that was touching the crab in the fish tank.

Dispose of the sand and the crab at the same time to make things easier. So long as you do this, everything will be fine and you’ll be able to prepare the tank for a new hermit crab if you wish to do so.

Can Dead Hermit Crabs Be Flushed Down the Toilet?

It’s a terrible idea to flush a dead hermit crab down the toilet. There are many reasons why this is a poor choice to make.

To start, it’s possible that the crab might not fit well depending on how big it is. In some cases, the carcass could cause clogging issues that will require you to call a plumber.

Even small hermit crabs that can be easily flushed shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet. This is because doing so could contaminate the water supply.

When you need to dispose of a dead hermit crab, it’s best to use one of the two methods outlined above. Bury the dead hermit crab in your yard or throw it away in the garbage.

Never make choices that can have negative consequences when you don’t have to. It’s much wiser to dispose of the hermit crab by burying it or throwing it away.

Always Clean the Tank After a Hermit Crab Dies

After a hermit crab dies, it’s important to clean the tank thoroughly. You want to clean the tank really well before you even think of introducing a new crab to the habitat.

You should clear away any sand that might have been contaminated by the dead crab. Some hermit crab owners choose to just replace the sand entirely.

Go ahead and clean the sides of the tank as well as you can. Wipe them down with water and then allow the tank to dry in the sun.

Any water bowls should be cleaned and you should get rid of the water. Put new water in the tank before introducing a new crab since you don’t want your new crab to get sick.

Even if you’re not introducing a new crab, it’s wise to do this. If you have other crabs that live in the tank, you should put them in a temporary isolation tank while you clean the main habitat.

What Causes Hermit Crabs to Die?

Many different things can cause hermit crabs to die. A hermit crab might die if the conditions in the tank are really bad.

When the tank gets too hot or cold, it can stress the hermit crab, and it might cause it to die if you don’t address the issue. You generally need to use a heater to keep the tank above 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humidity issues can cause hermit crabs to die as well. Hermit crabs require high humidity in the tank so they can breathe normally.

The hermit crab’s habitat should have a 70% to 80% humidity level. It’s easiest to use a small humidifier to keep the humidity in the right range.

Hermit crabs that dry out can easily die. This is a huge problem and it’s an important reason to use a hygrometer to monitor the humidity levels in the tank.

Sickness can cause hermit crabs to die, too. There are various diseases that hermit crabs can get, and it’s more likely that this will happen if the crab is stressed due to improper care.

A poor diet might eventually kill a hermit crab. Be sure that you’re feeding your hermit crab recommended foods and that it’s eating enough.

Water is necessary for hermit crabs to survive. Perhaps you haven’t been doing a good job of giving it constant access to water.

Pests such as mites are known to kill hermit crabs. Mites can be hard to notice due to being microscopic, but they’ll kill your crab if you choose to do nothing.

So long as you’re mindful of these issues, you should be able to take steps to protect your crab. Be sure to take action if you notice any of the problems above.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Normally Live?

Hermit crabs have the potential to live for a long time. If you take care of these pets well, it’s possible for them to stay alive for decades.

The average lifespan of a pet hermit crab might be a lot lower than that of a wild hermit crab. Many pet owners make mistakes and wind up killing these creatures within a few years.

This doesn’t mean that the hermit crabs must die fast under your watch. If you take care of your pet hermit crab optimally, it’ll be able to live for a very long time.

Hermit crabs have been known to live for up to thirty years. To keep the hermit crab alive for a long time in captivity, you’ll want to pay attention to its diet and give it a great environment where it can thrive.

Pay close attention to the temperature of the tank and the humidity levels. It’s also likely a good idea to give the hermit crab a friend in the tank since they can be social creatures.

Final Thoughts

Now you’ve learned how you can tell if a hermit crab is dead. Generally, you’re going to tell that the crab is dead based on how the tank smells.

When the tank starts to smell of rotting fish, it’s likely that the hermit crab has died. You shouldn’t bother a motionless hermit crab until it starts to smell in case it’s molting.

If the hermit crab is dead, be sure to dispose of its body properly. Clean the hermit crab’s habitat after you’re done so that it’ll be ready for a new crab.

Hopefully, your hermit crab isn’t dead and it’s just molting. If that’s the case, exercise patience until the hermit crab has finished the process.