Breeding Hermit Crabs

Originally written by Vanessa Pike-Russell

It was always thought that hermit crabs would not breed in captivity. Now, it seems, some have successfully bred with suitable conditions. While we are still working out what they are, it is obvious to all that if the hermit crabs are given enough room to move about in; both a fresh water bowl and a salt water pond; a balanced diet including carrion-type foods high in protein and calcium; humidity and temperature in the ideal range; and enough shells for growing and fussy bodies. While we are not sure what makes some hermit crabs breed and others not, it is important that their home meets all their needs, and yields a better chance of survival.

While hermit crabs have successfully bred, it is much harder to successfully hatch and raise the land hermit crabs. Since the first stage of development of land hermit crabs is an aquatic one, the eggs will need to be released into, or placed in, an aquatic environment to simulate the time spent in intertidal pools as part of plankton.

Unless you have the time and ability to raise the zoea to juvenile (air-breathing) stages, there is little chance they will survive. At each stage of development within the aquatic stage, the zoea (free swimming larvae) need to be fed by hand and kept in conditions which may be difficult for most. However, if you are able to raise land hermit crabs to juvenile stage, there is a good chance that the health of these offspring will be optimal, depending on feeding and conditions.

Article on breeding captive hermit crabs by Stu Wools-Cobb who has successfully bred and raised land hermit crab within his home.

Curlz Crabs Captive Breeding Project

Alaska Hermit Breeding Project

A hermit crab that is gravid (carrying eggs) will look like the drawing by Alcock, below. “A female crab attaches her eggs to the fine setae on her pleopods using a gluelike substance.” (Fox, S. 2000)

Helfman (1997a) described the copulatory behaviour of B. latro from observation of a single event. Both male and female crabs were in intermolt phase during copulation. The male approaches the female slowly, clasps the dorsal meri of the chelipeds, and quickly moves forward to turn the female onto her back. Abdomens are extended, the male deposits the spermataphore, and the pair disengages.

The copulatory behaviour of other coenobitids apparently lasts much longer than for Birgus. Hazlett(1966) and De Wilde (1973) depicted the migration and reproductive behaviours of Coenobita clypeatus, but no copulatory activity was recorded. Observations of mating of C. clypeatus in the field, confirmed by the presence of a spermataphore on the female, have been made (S. Gilchrist, unpub). Initiation begins by the male grasping the aperture of the female’s shell and moving her shell from side to side. A series of rocking and tapping motions either stimulates the female to extend from the shell, in which case mating proceeds ventral to ventral, or the female retracts father into the shell and the male releases the shell. Page and Willason (1982) noted copulatory behaviour in C. perlatus. Mating occurs during migration to the sea proceeding larval release. Mating is ventral to ventral with both crabs about three-quarters out of their shells. Males pass the spermataphore to the females using the modified pereiopods. Mating may occur before release of the developed egg mass.”

(Dunham, D. W., and S. L. Gilchrist. 1988. p. 119)

Ovigerous females may be taking shelter at other points along this beach showing a cryptic habit during daylight and active at night as C compressus, a common occurrence observed among ovigerous females of crustaceans; Particularly for C. scaevola and other coenobitids showed either daily or season migrations depending upon rainfall. Also, spawning females of C. clypeatus presented unusual pattern since they did not enter the water, but move toward the sea at low tide to drop or fling their eggs onto the wet rocks. (Shell utilization by the land hermit crab Coenobita scaevola from Wadi El-Gemal, Red Sea by Salam WS, Mantellato FL & Hanafy MH)

Here is a video compilation from a hermit crab owner whose crabs mated:

You can find more of her hermit crab videos on YouTube


Brodie, R.J. 1998. Movements of the terrestrial hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus (Crustacea, Coenobitidae). Revista de Biologia Tropical 46 (Suppl. 4): 181–185.

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Dunham, D. W., and S. L. Gilchrist. 1988. Behavior. Pp. 97-138 in Biology of the Land Crabs, W. W. Burggren and B. R. McMahon, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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and Fielder, D.R. (eds), The coconut crab: aspects of Birgus latro
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Fox, S. Hermit Crabs: A Complete Owners Pet. Barron Books Pub.

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<p”>Helfman, G. S. 1973. Ecology and Behaviour of the Coconut Crab, Birgus latro (L). Masters thesis, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

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Harvey, A. Text from a personal email to Vanessa Pike-Russell from Alan Harvey regarding determining the gender of a land hermit crab. Shared with permission. For more information about Alan Harvey and his research, please visit the link below

Jones, S. and Morgan, G.J. (1994) A Field Guide to Crustaceans of Australian Waters. Western Australian Museum. Chatswood, N.S.W. (Australia) : Reed Books, 1994. ISBN 0 7301 0403 6

Lowry, J.K. (1999 onwards). ‘Crustacea, the Higher Taxa: Description, Identification, and Information Retrieval.’ Version: 2 October 1999.

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Page, H.M., and Willason, 1982. Distribution Patterns of terrestrial hermit crabs at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands. Pacific Sci. 36:107-117

Vannini, M., and G. Chelazzi. 1981. Orientation of Coenobita rugosus (Crustacea: Anomura): A field study on Aldabra. Mar. Biol.64:135–140.


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Wolcott, T. G. 1988. Ecology. Pp. 55-96 in: Biology of Land Crabs (W. Burggren and B. McMahon, Eds.), Cambridge University Press, New York.