Written by Vanessa Pike-Russell
Hermit crabs are advertised as cheap and easy to maintain, which is not necessarily true. To keep your hermit crabs happy and healthy, you will need to provide a lot more than food and water. In this article we will give you a list of essential and optional items you need. Also you will find some info on basic care and upkeep of the tank, considerations when purchasing. This is an expanded version of the shopping checklist.
Glass tank with lid:
A glass tank is preferred over plastic tanks, which will scratch and will not be able to hold the humidity within the ventilated lids. A glass lid on a glass tank helps keep the temperature and humidity within hermit crab’s habitat, allowing for a slight gap for airflow. This airflow of fresh air into the humid environment will help to cut down on mould and bacteria, which can cause illness and even death among hermit crabs, often detected by a musty or ammonia odor.
Substrate is what we call the material that lines the bottom of the tank, and creates the ‘beach’ within your crabitat. The most popular substrates being: sanitised beach sand; damp coconut fiber (eg. T-Rex Forest Bed), quality play sand (eg. Tropical Play Sand, Aragonite sands, Play Box sand and others not used for concrete or building industry); crushed coral; fine river pebbles; and other hermit crab-safe substrates suitable for your climate. You will need enough of a depth to cover your largest Land Hermit Crab; often twice the height is sufficient for them to bury.
An Under Tank Heater or U.T.H. is a heat pad made especially for small animals and reptiles. Popular brands are: Euro-Rep (UK/Aus); Four Paws(U.S.); PetZone (Australia); ZooMed(UK/Aus and US versions). An U.T.H. is used to keep the hermit crabs warm by gently warming the glass floor of the tank, in turn warming the sand. You may need a thermostat with probe to regulate the warmth of the sand at the glass level within your tank if the artificial heating temperature rises above 26oC or 75oF.
An overhead light can also provide warmth in your tank as well as needed UV exposure.
Use non-metallic, non-porous dishes for your fresh water dish, another for your ocean water pond, and one for food.
Sea Sponges: (OPTIONAL)
Natural Sea Sponges are added to the water dish to provide humidity and moisture within your tropical crabitat. Place one in your water dish to minimize spills and maximize humidity. Take care to clean them regularly, squeezing out all the water after rinsing and alternating between two sponges daily.
A thermometer is used to observe the temperature inside the tank. Thermometers come in three main types: the adhesive fish tank style, based on a sticker that changes colour as the temperature at the glass raises; the circular reptile-type thermometers which are based on a coil which contracts or expands; a digital gauge which uses a probe and allows you to measure the temperature at more than one location.
A hygrometer is used to observe the humidity inside the tank. Just as with temperature, humidity is very important. If the humidity drops and the air is dry, your land hermit crab will have difficulty in breathing through their modified gills, which act as lungs when moistened and correctly functioning.
Water Ager or Conditioners are very important if the quality of water is not suitable for use with fish in an aquarium. It is important to removes harmful substances from tap water such as chlorine and heavy metals, which can make hermit crabs ill.
A brackish (between fresh and sea water) solution is recommended for the “Ocean Water” pool within your tank. Philippe de Vosjoli recommends 5 tablespoons of synthetic sea salt (such as Instant Ocean) per Gallon of dechlorinated water.
A bathing tub used to bathe your hermit crabs in. It needs to be deep enough so that the hermit crabs cannot climb out. Forced regularly bathing is generally not recommended. A better, less stressful option is to buy water dishes deep enough to allow self submersion.
Mister Bottle: (OPTIONAL)
A mister bottle produces a fine mist of water, to moisten the hermit crab’s gills when you remove them from their crabitat for an extended time period. NOT a replacement for proper humidity in the crabitat. You may know them as facial misters.
It is important to feed a balanced diet, with new foods offered on a daily basis.
2. CHECKLIST OF CARE: Daily/Weekly/Monthly
o Refill water dish and salt water pond
o Empty and clean the food dish (no chemicals)
o Offer a different food each day
o Rinse sponge in water free of chlorine
o Check the humidity level is within range
(50-60% or relative humidity 70-80%)
o Check the temperature of air and substrate
(21-27oC or 70-80oF) and that it is stable
o Clean the bowls and dishes without chemicals
o Pick through the substrate for food and feces
o Give your sea sponges a good clean, squeeze
water out and leave to dry for long life
o Sterilize seashells and re-offer them to crabs
o Where needed, remove all items from tank
(substrate, wood, toys, dishes etc) and clean
o Wipe down walls of tank with vinegar and
water, or ocean water mixture.
(Avoid cleaning chemicals eg. bleach)
3. The Big Picture
As you would have already guessed, caring for a land hermit crab is more than just food and salt. The initial set up for a land hermit crab can include much more than you previously thought. The good news is that there will never be a costly vet bill, no real expenses for food or medicine, no reproduction in your crabitat, or having to worm and groom.
The main costs are those of the housing; isolation kit; heating; substrate; gauges; water dish; pond and food bowl; tank decorations; background and other items such as seashells; sea sponges; protein and calcium sources… the list goes on. You are trying to offer everything a land hermit crab needs while in captivity, the essentials they cannot live without.
If you cannot meet the needs of a land hermit crab, then it is best to wait until you can. It is much better to have an isolation unit set up and ready, than to be in a last minute panic when there are moulting signs or you have had your first moult. Most pets have a similar start up cost, which enables them to live comfortably and have a happy home and environment.
Contrary to popular belief, Land Hermit Crabs are not throwaway pets and deserve the same humane treatment as other animals do. Before you buy a land hermit crab, go through the checklist on the next page.
If at any time you find that you cannot meet the needs of your land hermit crabs, or decide that they are not the pet for you, please try and find them a happy home with friends that may care for them as well as their own.
Alternatively, you can put them up for adoption at The Hermit Crab Adoption Center. Land Hermit Crab owners from all over the world participate in the free online society known as the Land Hermit Crab Owners Society, with the main forum at Hermies Yahoo! Group and Auslandhermitcrabs Yahoo! Group. There is an online version of the Society’s journal which is also printed every three months, with the website version updated monthly.
For more details visit The Hermit Crab Adoption Center for more information about how to sign up to adopt hermit crabs, or place your own hermit crabs up for adoption.
4. Responsible Pet Ownership
Why have a pet land hermit crab?
Land Hermit Crabs are an interesting pet that when kept healthy and happy will live for a number of years, if you are willing to pay for the essentials. If you can provide heat, humidity, hide spots, good hygiene, food and suitable water then you are part the way to keeping healthy hermit crabs.
It is important that you choose the hermit crabs that are suitable for your family and crabitat. If you only have room for a small crabitat in your home, then it may be best that you choose small hermit crabs. Larger hermit crabs need more room to move about within your tank, and will need larger versions of water dishes, food dishes, hideouts and the like. It is also important that if you have small children, that you do not buy jumbo hermit crabs which may be able to break the skin with a nip. Many larger hermit crabs are more wary of being dropped and will latch on if they feel in danger. It may be wise to choose micro, teenie or small hermit crabs for toddlers Even if they do nip, it doesn’t hurt or cause distress.
Your Family Lifestyle
Land Hermit Crabs need fresh food and water every day. If you are not able to be there to provide these essential needs, it is important that you find someone to look after your hermit crabs if you are gone for more than two days. A ZooMed Repti-Reservoir may be helpful in providing water during the day if you work, as the reservoir holds a few days worth of water, and operates like the refillable dog bowls do, just a smaller version.
Your Home Environment
You will need to find a suitable spot within your home for the placement of your land hermit crab’s crabitat. Somewhere out of drafts, and away from any chemicals, insecticides or fumes. Typical locations are in the lounge room or in bedrooms, however the noise of nocturnal hermit crabs partying the night away has kept more than one hermit crabber awake. If possible, the crabitat should be placed in an area which does not receive a heavy traffic,allowing for some privacy and quiet.
You will need to spend at least five minutes at morning and night time refilling water and food dishes; picking through the substrate for any food that has fallen or been dragged out of the food bowl and to check for signs of any problems or illness. View the checklist for more information on what is needed each day, week and month.
The initial set-up is something that you need to see as essential. There should be no cutting corners when it comes to the crabitat (glass with lids are best); heating (under tank heater, even through summer); gauges (tools to enable you to keep the humidity and temperature at suitable levels);substrate (to line the tank with and enable your crabs to dig), etc. They are all necessary expenses and you will need to set up the crabitat before buying your new pets, or they will not survive very long.
5. Starting Off On The Right Peripod (FOOT)
Where Do I Purchase?
It is important that the hermit crabs are in good health when you buy them,as it is often very difficult to undo past damage, especially poor hygiene which leads to bacteria, fungus.
Try to purchase hermit crabs from a pet store which has a range of hermit crab accessories, or at least from a pet shop that will get items in for you on request. If the store keeps their hermit crabs in wood shavings or other unsuitable substrate, I would either try and recommend a more suitable one (sand, coral sand, playsand, etc) or find another pet store which will provide you with healthy hermit crabs that start off on the right foot.
Studies have shown that poor conditions and bad hygiene have led to bacteria contamination, which can cause limbs to drop off, mould and fungus, leaving them stressed and in many cases, they will not make it through a moult.
6. Important Considerations
Does each have a place where it can de-stress?
Each crab should be able to retreat within the security of a hiding hut,cave or space where it can feel comfortable and secure within its surroundings.
Will each hermit crab have enough space to dig down and moult?
Moulting is responsible for most of the deaths of land hermit crabs in captivity They need to have adequate moulting conditions or they will not survive The substrate should be deep enough so that it is double the height of the largest hermit crab at least one section of the tank. You should also make allowances for a small isolation unit for each hermit crab, and have it prepared beforehand if possible.
Do I have three seashells for each size of hermit crab?
Each hermit crab should have access to at least three seashells of its size and shape, and they should include some of the more popular seashells for land hermit crabs for that size. If it cannot find a seashell to fit, your hermit crab may become very crabby. If you cannot take responsibility to find quality seashells for each hermit crab, then you should stick to hermit crabs of the same size. At least then, they will have a range of shells to choose from.
Larger hermit crabs are often more aggressive than small hermit crabs. It is not a good idea to pick a hermit crab that is overly aggressive, as it may continue its aggressive streak in your tank.
Signs of Illness
If you see a hermit crab with signs of illness in a pet store, it is often not a wise idea to take it home, especially if the signs are of mould, bacteria, mites, fungus or other illness that may spread to your current hermit crabs. Pet Stores are not allowed to sell ill animals. If a hermit crab dies within twenty-four hours, take it back to the pet store and ask them for a replacement.