written by Nan Jacobs copyright 06-20-2001
At the shore they’re found in boardwalk gift shops, clinging to the sides of wire cages, peering out at you with beady black eyes from pretty shells. In regular pet stores, the conditions they live in are often so abysmal that the local SPCA’s should conduct raids! Unfortunately, land hermit crab rights fall somewhere below those of jumbo shrimp and Maine lobsters. They are Crustaceans (i.e., food or bait), not “pets”. To make bad matters worse, general awareness of captive land hermit crab needs is practically non-existent.
If you purchase one, chances are you won’t get a care sheet. “They don’t live long, anyway,” you’ll be told if you question the tank conditions or the relatively cheap price of the hermit crabs. Indeed, their low cost probably contributes to the “throw away pet syndrome”. “Oh, if he dies, I’m not out more than lunch money,” the purchaser might think, forgetting that starvation, overheating, or just plain unhealthy living conditions take any creature’s life in a slow, painful fashion.
Of course they won’t live long if you don’t know how to care for them! These misunderstood, remarkable critters can be barrels of fun, even affectionate in their peculiar Crustacean way, and they can live for a long time. I know of at least two people who’ve had their crabs for 24 years or longer.
Hermit crabs are not, as most people generally believe, simple to care for. Food and water aren’t enough. Crabs are particular about temperature and humidity; they molt now and then (which calls for special measures); they stress-out easily, get mites sometimes. They can drown in too much water, and they can suffocate in too much heat. And they are not hermits. Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that they live in colonies in the wild, and that they are nocturnal. Some people think hermit crabs are boring because they “never do anything”. They just boogie when you’re asleep! Check the tracks in the sand (see below) in the morning if you don’t believe me. 🙂
What about the rumors that they’re nasty pinchers, and smelly? The only smelly crab is a dead crab. Nasty? You’d be irritable, too, if you had to live half starved, thirsty, infested with mites and surrounded by dead and dying (and therefore, by gosh, =smelly=) compatriots. Hermit crab owners I know report swift improvement in temperament after Crabby is rescued from a miserable environment, and given TLC.
To get started in making your hermit crab comfortable you will need:
Another crab or two. They’re not solitary by nature and they will be happier and healthier with company. Don’t worry, they won’t fill your tank with babies or guppies. They need the ocean to go forth and multiply (good thing, since it’s difficult to tell the males from the females).
An aquarium with lid. Many crab keepers use ten gallon tanks, others use smaller tanks, some have mega-set ups. Plastic kritter keepers are okay, certainly better than the wire cages, however, glass aquariums maintain the temperature and humidity at steadier levels. In addition, lids help prevent getaways-crabs are intent upon escape most of the time.
Substrate. T-Rex calci sand is popular, but expensive. Some people use sterilized play sand, but it can be more difficult to keep dry and clean (yep, crabs make tiny little sausages, and you need to pick the stuff out regularly, along with the food they like to bury). Rule of thumb is, make the substrate twice as deep as your biggest crab, so (s)he can dig underneath to hide or molt.
Water dish. Not metal, and preferably shallow, as crabs can drown. Water must be dechlorinated. Some species (nope, they’re not all the same) need a sea salt solution added to their water.Natural sea sponges. These help maintain humidity, and the crabs seem to enjoy sitting on them to drink. Place a sponge in the water to give the smaller crabs something to hold onto. The sponges should be kept fresh and clean.
Extra shells for them to play with and try on. They usually prefer shells with rounder openings-such as turbos-rather than elongated openings.
Toys. Things to climb on (sterilized driftwood, choya wood, coral). Hamster balls are a fun way for you and your crabs to interact and for your crabs to get necessary exercise. (You thought you only had to walk the dog?). Mirrors can be very amusing to a hermit crab!
A hiding place. Caves, “coconut cabanas”, etc.
A mister. Many people mist their crabs with dechlorinated water several times per week. My crabs don’t seem to like that, so as long as the tank stays around 55-65 % humidity and 74 degrees F, I don’t worry about it.
Humidity and temperature gauges are a must. Keep them near the substrate level where the crabs spend most of their time.
Under tank heater if the temperature in your home drops below 70