Older articles that are no longer in line with current care standards but still have value and should be preserved.

Handicapped/limbless/sick Hermit Crab Care

Please read the updated version of this article:

Written by Marie Davis (aka ladybug15057)

Hermit crab dropped leg

Hermit crab dropped leg

During a crabbers crabbing experience one may find themselves faced with a situation of needing to care for a severely handicapped or mutilated hermit crab. Do not despair, it is possible to care for a him so he can regenerate his missing limbs in hopes of having a successful molt. To do so will require extra TLC, time and patience.

First, one needs to have an isolation tank set up. The isolation tank should have a humidity level of 75-80%. (or the same percentage as the main tank humidity level was, unless this hermit crab is new and possibly suffering from PPS, which one would want to adjust the humidity level and temperature of the isolation tank according to the Post Purchase Stress article

Within the isolation tank place a dry sand substrate to limit the possibility of a mold complication in case the hermit crab would have any left over food on his shell or body after feeding. If this is not possible, one can get a small cleaned bowl and place dry sand within it and push this down into the original substrate in the iso, but should be large enough one can place a hut over the bowl. (or get a Tupperware type lid, a clean margarine lid and place dry sand within it) Do not use dry coco fiber, eco earth or a substrate that does require to be used damp so not to pull moisture from the hermit crab. Make a small impression within the sand to place the hermit crab in.

The isolation tank should have a regular night and day cycle up until one notes the gel limbs becoming larger and formed. When this is noted, the handicapped hermit crab should have darkness so his molting hormones can kick in. This can be accomplished by placing cardboard, or a towel on the outside of the tank.

Carefully attempt to offer him a drop of honey which is natures natural antibiotic. Next, with a dropper if possible, gently take the hermit crab and place 1 drop of dechlorinated ocean/sea water with 1 drop of dechlorinated fresh water within his shell. (if the hermit crab is larger, the size of a 50 cent piece place 2 drops of ocean and 2 drops of fresh water within his shell) After placing the drops of water within his shell, carefully place him in the sand impression you made and cover him with the hut. If he had molted, place his exo within the impression in the sand with him. Leave him be to destress for at least 12 hours, or until the next morning.

If he is limbless he will need your assistance in eating, as well as providing him with the water he needs. After permitting him to destress, take part of his exo and crush this into a powder form. Take a drop of 100% pure honey and mix a little of the exo within it to make a mushy paste. (If he hadn’t molted read regarding foods to offer later in this article, also making them into a mushy paste type food) Once the exo/food is prepared have a place ready where you can sit to take the time needed to feed him. Use a toothpick, or something small that you will be able to control easily and place a small drop of the mush on the end of it. Gently and carefully place the food where his maxillipeds (mouthparts) are and wait patiently for him to begin to eat the food. If he shows no interest in the food, you may need to gently touch his maxilliped area with the food to get his interest for him to begin to eat. If you watch closely you should be able to tell when he has had enough to eat, so stop offering the food so not to stress him more than he already is. (this is normally after he has cleaned the toothpick twice from the food you’re offering if he is a smaller hermit crab, if he is a larger hermit crab it maybe after 3-4 offerings) If you have gotten any of the food on his shell, clean this carefully with a Q-tip and ocean water. Once you have cleaned his shell of any possible food, you can place him within the ocean water pond for a minute to see if he can fill his shell with some water.

(make sure he is not totally submerged, and this can vary, if you place him in the fresh water pond for rinsing, place 1 drop of ocean water within his shell when you remove him from the pond, if you place him in the ocean pond, place 1 drop of fresh water within his shell) Once rinsed, place him back within the isolation tank in the area you had prepared for him and place the hut back over him. Please do not disturb this hermit crab again until evening when you have time to attempt to feed him again. The less he is disturbed, the less unnecessary stress he will have to undergo while he feels in such a vulnerable state. For the evening feeding, make a mush out of his exo with dechlor water. For the morning offering you can mix the crushed exo with dechlor water with a little spirulina mixed in as well if you have any. Attempt to rotate this with each feeding until majority of the exo is gone so he hopefully will continue to eat since hermit crabs are known to ignore foods they had eaten within 9-14 hours before.

Once his exo is gone, the feeding must continue on a daily basis in the morning and the evening as well as the cleaning of any excess food off of his shell and the fresh/ocean water dips in the pond. At night prior to you retiring for the day, place 1 drop of ocean and 1 drop of fresh water within his shell so he will have the water he wants/needs.

It is very important to offer him wide varied, high quality diet. Please attempt to stay away from the commercial foods unless they are of higher quality and either freeze dried or dehydrated without any preservatives within them. Offer foods that contain copper, lipids, zeaxanthin, bete carotene, high protein source, a high calcium source, chitin, cellulose, spirulina, seaweed, omega fats, Carbohydrates, etc.

The above care is provided for a hermit crab who has no limbs and not able to move about himself. If your hermit crab has a 2-3 limbs or more, you may wish to alter some of the care advice above. Observe him closely to see if he is able to go to the food dish as well as the water ponds on his own. This can be done too while you are asleep or away by smoothing the sand and checking it for tracks in the sand. If he is able to move about on his own, the detailed care above can be adjusted accordingly.

If you need further assistance, please feel free to complete the Emergency Questionnaire and post it on the forum.

On molting

Please note this article is old and some of the information may be outdated.

Originally written by Jad Johnson 2003

Perhaps the most traumatic event in the life of your crab, not to mention the trauma for the owner, is a molt. Often for me it begins by checking on my guys in the morning (I find that they like to do it during the night). A momentary flood of panic washes over me when I see crab bits strewn around the Crabarium. “Oh, no. Has he been mutilated, or is he ill?” Then as I realize I have a molter on my hands, I REALLY begin to panic!

Molting (or moulting to our Aussie buddies) is the natural process by which your crab grows. Like all arthropods, they have a hard exoskeleton, or outer shell which does not grow. So about once a year, depending on the size, age, and eating habits of the crab, they will shed their “exo” to complete the growth process. They will also take this opportunity to re-grow any limbs lost or damaged after the previous molt. “But Jad,” you ask, “is there anything I can do to help my little guy out?” I’m glad you asked.

There are some tried and true methods, and then there are more experimental ones. In this article, I’ll deal with standard methods, and will leave cutting edge advances to another day. I will also focus on the above substrate molt. Probably about 95% of my guys molt on the surface. Let’s examine the molting process in segments:

The Pre Molt

If you’re going to help your crab prepare for a molt, you’ll need to know what to look for, right? There are several telltale signs. Some of the more common are: cloudy eyes (like cataracts); slow and lethargic movement; hanging out on the sponge, in the waterdish, or other damp locale; digging in a wetting the sand, and the appearance of gel limbs, if the crab has any missing claws or legs.

Gel limbs are proto-limbs, buds that are the beginning of appendages that were lost previously. They appear well before a molt, but get larger and often darken as the molt nears.
Many land hermit crab owners like to isolate their crabs at these first warning signs. I usually don’t, because when I do, my crabs stay in a little one-gallon critter keeper for three weeks without molting. Of course, when I replace them back in the tank they molt immediately. Usually, I wait until the deed is done before transferring them to an iso tank. My iso tank is about a half-gallon, and I keep it inside my main tank. It is easier to control the humidity and temperature levels this way.

During this pre-molt time, there are a few things you can do to help: Pre-molt baths in water treated with Stress Coat by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals is helpful and practiced by most crabbers. Some more advanced methods include giving your crab honey or Gatorade to give them that little sugar rush to help them increase energy. Some advocate applying natural aloe to parts of their exo. This helps soften the exo.

During the Molt

Not a whole lot to do here. just sit and watch. It is important not to disturb them during the actual even. If possible keep the environment warm, humid, and dark.

Post Molt

Congratulations! The molt is over.. You’re about halfway there. This is often the hardest period for them to get through. If you had just spent several hours sloughing your skin, I bet you’d be exhausted, too! Unfortunately, everything might seem to go right, but the crab still may not make it through this critical time. To help increase your crab’s chances of success, consider these tips:

  • At this point, the crab should definitely be isolated. His soft pink exo is vulnerable to nefarious crustaceans. If you haven’t already done so, GENTLY transfer him to a spare tank, or an iso unit. Some people will take a section of a 2-liter soda bottle with the top and bottom removed to instantly section the crab off with out moving him.
  • Like any other traumatic medical procedure, what the patient needs most is peace and quiet. Try not to handle the crab at this point unless it is absolutely necessary! Too much activity at this point can result in limb damage or loss, and stress to the crab.
  • Be sure to keep the crab’s old exo to munch on. This helps replenish the calcium lost in the molt. I will usually save the uneaten portions of the exo for later molters. If the exo has already been ravaged by Crabarium-mates, then cuttlebone or sterilized eggshells will do.
  • If the iso unit the crab is in is dry, you may want to mist your lil’ guy, because humidity is also important at this time. Remember not to overdo it; a gentle spritz is all it takes. A nearby damp sponge will also help.

After about a week or so, the patient will be ready to rejoin society. Most of the exo will have been consumed; generally the tough leg tips and large feeder claw will be all that remains. At this time your hermit might want to slip into something more comfortable- a bigger shell. Be sure there are several to choose from. Of course, he may like the one he’s already in, thank you very much. They’re so picky about their shells, aren’t they?
For them, it’s exhausting, and for us it’s nerve-wracking. Either way, it ain’t fun. However, your crab’s molt need not be a death sentence. With a little preparation and TLC, both you and your crab will get through it fine. It just takes a little practice and a lot of patience. Pretty soon, you will both be old hats at it. You’ll be calm and reserved. until the next molt begins, then it’s panic city all over again. Oh, Well.

Copyright 2003 Jad Johnson. All Rights Reserved

More articles on molting:
What is molting
Is my hermit crab dead or molting?
Regulation of Crustacean Molting: A Multi-Hormonal System
All about molting by Lisa Loeske
CrabLoverDon on molting