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5 Reasons Why Hermit Crabs Bury Themselves

5 Reasons Why Hermit Crabs Bury Themselves

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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. In addition, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hermit crabs have started to become pretty popular as pets as of late. However, some people get confused by hermit crabs due to their digging practices.

You might notice that your hermit crab is digging a lot in its habitat. Although this is normal, it’s still something that new hermit crab owners need to learn about so that they can understand what’s going on.

Read on to learn more about why hermit crabs bury themselves. This will give you a better appreciation of what’s going on, and it’ll help you to avoid making certain catastrophic mistakes.

It’s always good to know as much as you can about pets that you’re caring for. If you learn about hermit crabs and why they do certain things, then it should be much easier to care for them as a result.

1 – Molting

Hermit crab inside a Screw Turritella Sea Shells

The most common reason why hermit crabs bury themselves has to do with a process known as molting. Molting hermit crabs are going to shed their exoskeletons, and they will become vulnerable during this period of time.

Basically, the hermit crab is going to hide in the sand and remain motionless as a new exoskeleton grows. This is a totally normal part of a hermit crab’s life cycle, but sometimes hermit crabs will start molting as a response to stress.

Otherwise, this is a normal action that is going to occur at certain times. After the molting process is over, a hermit crab should emerge from the sand with a stronger exoskeleton than before.

There are certain behaviors and signs that you can look out for that will let you know that a hermit crab is about to molt. Hermit crabs that are getting ready to molt might start digging constantly.

You’ll see hermit crabs eat and drink more than usual as they start to prepare for molting as well. They need to store fat and get as hydrated as possible to survive the process safely.

Sometimes hermit crabs will bathe a bit more often than before when they’re about to molt. Eventually, the hermit crab might start to move around less and less.

Your hermit crab’s exoskeleton might change somewhat, and you should notice it becoming sort of gray. If you see that your hermit crab’s eyes are starting to cloud over, then you’ll know that it’s just about time for molting to begin.

What If You’re Worried That the Hermit Crab Is Dead?

Another normal thing to worry about is whether or not the hermit crab has died. Sometimes molting can take a very long time, and this means that the hermit crab will be buried for amounts of time that lead you to think that it could have simply died.

It isn’t impossible for a hermit crab to die during the molting process, but you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It would also be very bad to try to dig a hermit crab out during this time because you could scare it to death.

That isn’t just a turn of phrase, either. The shock that a hermit crab would experience from being dug up while molting would likely kill it.

If the hermit crab did die while buried, then you’ll be able to tell by the scent that is being emitted. A dead hermit crab is going to smell like foul rotting fish.

Even if you smell this, it’s best to give it some time. The hermit crab could be alive still, but you’ll have to wait and see.

The exoskeleton being unchanged would be a bad sign that the hermit crab has died. The hermit crab should be eating the exoskeleton as a source of food and water.

It can be frustrating, but you really do just need to wait it out. Experts say that you should wait at least three months before you assume that a hermit crab is dead.

2 – Anxiety

Hermit crab on a white sand beach

It’s interesting to note that hermit crabs will also bury themselves because of stress. When a hermit crab is experiencing anxiety, it’s going to want to bury itself as a coping mechanism.

Did your hermit crab bury itself in its habitat immediately after you put it in there? This is actually pretty normal because being moved to a new environment is quite stressful and scary for a hermit crab.

It isn’t unusual for hermit crabs to hide this way for long periods of time. Hermit crabs are going to feel significantly safer when they’re buried, and this gives them some time to just be alone.

Wild hermit crabs use burying themselves as a defense mechanism to stay away from predators. It’s a thing that they do for protection and to avoid overstimulation.

Hermit crabs can get very frightened by humans, and sometimes hermit crabs will be scared due to how humans try to handle them. If you pick a hermit crab up the wrong way, then you might find that the hermit crab will want to bury itself out of a deep sense of fear.

It’s said that to handle a hermit crab effectively, you’re going to need to grip its shell with your strongest hand. Then you can place your other hand underneath the hermit crab to allow its legs to touch your skin.

Over time, this might build up trust with your hermit crab so that it will get used to interacting with you. You could also avoid handling the hermit crab and choose to just observe it and feed it instead.

3 – Hermit Crabs Think That Digging Is Fun

Crab Diggin in the Sandy Beach

Another thing to consider is that hermit crabs think that digging is a fun activity. They often like to play around by digging holes and burrowing into the sand that is in their habitats.

When you encounter hermit crabs in the wild, they’re going to be hanging out in beach areas where they will be digging a lot to get around. Hermit crabs dig in the wild for fun and for practical purposes.

They have large habitats in the wild and they dig tunnels so that they can get from one side to the other safely. When a hermit crab is placed in an aquarium-type habitat in captivity, it’s still going to have those urges to dig.

Of course, things are quite different for the hermit crabs in captivity than they were in the wild. Even so, you’ll find the hermit crabs digging very often, and it won’t always be because they’re afraid.

4 – Looking for Food

Hermit crabs will also burrow into the ground in the wild when they’re looking around for food. Not all hermit crabs are going to get used to the idea of being fed right away.

You might find that hermit crabs will still dig in an attempt to look for food just as they would in the wild. If your hermit crab is still looking for food after you’ve been feeding it for quite some time, then you might need to determine if something is going on.

For example, if the hermit crab is not eating everything that you give it, then it might be due to a lack of variety in the diet. Hermit crabs eat lots of different things such as plants and dead animals in the wild.

In the wild, hermit crabs won’t often eat the same thing twice in a short period of time due to the variety of foods that they have available to them. You could try mixing things up more so that the hermit crab will be happy with its food choices.

Sometimes you might want to give the hermit crab some vegetables, but you might want to give them some cuttlebone on other days. The hermit crab will likely appreciate your willingness to mix things up.

5 – Hermit Crabs Are Nocturnal

Nocturnal Hermit Crab

You should know that hermit crabs are nocturnal creatures. They have evolved to operate at night, and this means that they will often hide themselves during the day.

Sometimes hermit crabs just like to stick to this even when they’re in captivity. They might like sleeping during the day to avoid the light, and they’ll be less likely to want to come out when things are noisy during the height of the day.

Hermit crabs really don’t like bright lights either, and it’s normal for them to burrow into the sand to hide during the daytime. You might see the hermit crab start moving around more when the lights go out.

Eventually, hermit crabs will start to adjust to operating during the daytime. This is especially true if you feed your hermit crab during the day.

It just might take some time for the hermit crab to reach this point. Some hermit crabs might adjust more quickly than others, too.

Final Thoughts

Now you know why hermit crabs tend to bury themselves in the sand all the time. There are many different reasons why they do this, and you might need to pay attention to what’s going on to truly understand what’s happening with your hermit crab.

Remember not to overreact when your hermit crab has been buried for a long time. It could just be molting, which is a natural part of a hermit crab’s life cycle.

Being more informed should allow you to care for your hermit crab effectively. Just do your best and you should wind up having a good experience.

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Patricia Starek

Monday 16th of August 2021

Lisa, Thanks for your thoughtful post... we brought home three hermit crabs from a store at the beach, did our a an aquarium, filled it with the recommended substrate, but it a hermit hut, a log to climb, fresh and salt water and they all have burrowed and barely come out at all for three weeks...the times we have seen them, they still have their shells.. .and they don't seem to be eating... it's been three weeks... what would you do? we have a humidity and temp gauge and they have remained mostly optimum.


Friday 20th of August 2021

Hi Patricia, New pets can get pretty stressed from a move to a new home, so it's possible that that could be a contributing factor. It's also possible for molting to take quite a while as well, so it's hard to say if it's one thing or the other. Are they not eating at all? If they are eating little bits at a time, then that is probably okay and they may just be coming out at night to eat when you're not looking. You can find a little more on that here:

I would probably keep letting them acclimate to their new environment and keep an eye to make sure their food is going down over time. If not, then I would probably reach out to a vet for guidance. Good luck!