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So you want to buy a hermit crab?

Written by Stacy Griffith and originally published on All Things Crabby.com

Hermit crabs

Hermit crabs

Now that you’ve decided that a hermit crab is the pet for you, it’s time to make sure you are right for a hermit crab. If you know as much about hermit crabs as I did when I first purchased one, you are going to appreciate this information. I will cover the basics for setting up a crabitat (a cute name for your hermit crabs habitat). So BEFORE you run off to the pet store and pick out your new pets, print the shopping list at the bottom of the article and take it to the store with you. Once your crabitat is set up properly you can go and pick up your new pets. If you do this correctly from the beginning you will spend less money in the long run.


You need to start with a glass tank with a solid lid. The tank doesn’t need to be watertight. For this reason you can most likely find a tank for free. That’s right, FREE. So many people throw out or give away 10 gallon tanks. I have at least 5 of them I obtained for free. Sources include: craigslist, yard sales, thrift shops, flea markets and pet stores going out of business. I purchased a 20 gallon tank with a stand for ten dollars. I purchased a 40 gallon breeder tank with a lid for thirty dollars. My best find to date is a 150 gallon (that’s not a typo) tank for seventy dollars. There is no reason to buy a brand new tank. Speaking from experience, crabs are highly addictive and nearly everyone wants to own more than can comfortable live in a 10 gallon tank. If this sounds like you, go ahead and find a larger tank now.

Now for a lid. A glass lid is fine but plexiglass/acrylic works just fine also. You can measure the inner lip of your tank and then go to your local hardware store to purchase a piece of plexiglass and have it cut to fit. If your tank comes with a screen lid you can still use plexiglass for a cover and lay it on top, this allows for some venting and additional safeguard against escapes. Many crabbers will cover their screen lid with Press N Seal plastic wrap. If you have the patience to deal with this, it is acceptable. The lid needs to be secured in some fashion, a weight of some sort on top is a good idea. Hermit crabs are avid climbers. They can and WILL escape if you give them the opportunity. Hermit crabs have been seen abandoning their shell in order to execute an escape through a narrow opening. Hermit crabs can use the silicon seal to reach the top of the tank also, and they will. Don’t be surprised if your crabs cling to the underside of the screen lid.

Now we need a substrate or ground covering for the crabitat. I have tried every option currently available save calci sand. The best all around, easy to use, crab friendly substrate is play sand mixed 5:1 with cocofiber. This sand must be the child safe variety and silica free. You should sift through it with a magnet to remove stray metal which somehow finds its way into the sand. Gravel and river rocks are not acceptable as a substrate. Coral sand is expensive but acceptable in water pools or small areas, so long as you provide another medium for burrowing and molting in the tank. Calci sand/Repti sand/Hermit crab sand is not recommended. This sand is sold in small bags and is often brightly colored. This substrate is flat out dangerous. Once it becomes damp it clumps then hardens like cement. I have seen photos of hermit crabs cemented into their shells by calci sand. Substrate should be deeper than the largest crab you intend to purchase by about 6 inches.

The tank must be kept warm so you need a heat source. Commonly, beginners start with under the tank heaters (UTH). This is acceptable but with experience and education, many crabbers will add overhead UVB lighting. Normal cycles of day and light are critical to your crab’s health and well being. Look for a UVB bulb that can be mounted inside the tank, UVB rays are greatly filtered by glass/lexan. UVB is thought to extend the lifespan of a captive hermit crab. A 5.0 reptile bulb is the norm. Heat lamps can be used alone (without at UTH) for heat and light cycle but it is challenging to maintain the correct humidity with a heat lamp. A heat bulb must be turned off at night and second night bulb must be added to maintain heat. The wattage of bulb will depend on your crabitat size and your climate. Minimum tank temperature is 75F but your tank should range from 75-82F (many species like it warmer, closer to 85F). How will you know if it’s warm enough? Well, you will need a thermometer for that. Thermometer strips are not accurate enough. A thermometer with an indicator of some sort is preferable and it should be placed midway down the side of your tank. Your tank should have a range of temperatures so it’s ok if some spots are cooler than others.

The tank must be kept humid. This is not optional, unless your goal is to kill your hermit crabs. This is accomplished by dampening the substrate, placement of water pools or moss. But you must have hygrometer to measure the relative humidity. 70-80% humidity is standard but many species enjoy higher humidity too. It’s important that you remember its RELATIVE and not actual humidity. A gauge style hygrometer can and should be calibrated before placing it in the tank, midway down the side of your tank.

So we have the house built so to speak. Let’s furnish it.


When shopping for fun and interesting items for your crabitat there are some things to bear in mind. Hermit crabs like to climb, a lot. Hermit crabs like to dig and they like to have hidey spots during the day. Purchase items that meet these needs. Avoid anything metal, painted or chemically treated. Bear in mind that the warm, humid climate will be prime for mold and mildew. Non organic items will be resistant to mold and mildew and require less cleaning. Do not go outside and pick up random sticks and things and toss them in your tank. Not all woods are hermit crab safe and you may unwittingly introduce pests to the tank. Trees, plants, flowers are often treated with pesticides, which are lethal to hermit crabs. Fertilizers and other chemicals are not safe. If it’s not organic it shouldn’t be in the tank. Choya/Cholla is safe. Many items sold for reptiles are safe. Creative crabbers convert many household items for their crabitat, don’t be afraid to repurpose items.

The curtains are hung, the furniture is in, let’s eat!

Food and Water

Commonly, hermit crabs have been fed commercial produced food in pellet form. As interest has grown, our knowledge of the dietary needs of hermit crabs has grown tremendously. Rare is the long term crabber who feeds a straight diet of commercial food. The variety of foods that your little scavengers can consume is vast. The rules to remember are: it should be organic and free of table salt. In 2005, the myth that dairy products are deadly to hermit crabs was debunked. Prior to that, the myth that citrus fruits are deadly to hermit crabs was similarly debunked. Do not feed your hermit crabs anything with human table salt added. Not all plants are safe either. There are links at the end of this article and you can find all you ever wanted to know about hermit crab foods on these quality sites. Always feed some form of calcium. This is more important if you don’t have a UVB light.

All species of hermit crabs require constant access to fresh water AND ocean water. The dishes of water should be deep enough and large enough that your biggest hermit crab can wade into the dish and soak themselves and clean their shell. This should be considered in selecting the size of your tank, and the size of the crabs you intend to purchase. Water dishes take up space but they are non negotiable items in your crabitat. Tap water is not safe for your hermit crabs straight from the tap. This does not mean you need to buy expensive bottled water. You need a small bottle of dechlorinator drops. There are water treatment products that remove everything harmful from tap water, one drop per gallon of water. You can find these drops in the fish section of your pet store. You will need to purchase ocean salt to mix ocean water. Typically this is mixed ½ cup per gallon. I am giving you this information so you can determine how large of a package you need. I mix my water in milk jugs. 2018: Change in how to use Prime


Your hermit crabs will molt. They may even molt right after you bring them home (if you use the PPS Minimize the Risk method they will already be in isolation). Hermit crabs dig down in the substrate to molt. You should allow them to do so. Isolation is not required for molting. There are circumstances where you may be forced to place a molter in isolation: another crab is trying to dig up the molter OR you have a surface molter.

So instead of discovering you have a surface molter and running frantically to the store to get the needed items for a isolation tank, let’s just go ahead and get prepared for that now.

An isolation unit should be a miniature version of your crabitat, minus the decorations.
You need substrate but not deep substrate. A surface molter should be left on the surface. You should not attempt to bury the crab yourself. Same for a molter that is being harassed. So shallow substrate is fine. You need a heat source but not a light. For small crabs I like to use the small plastic kritter keepers. I place the molter into the kritter keeper, secure the lid and place the entire box right in the main tank. You will need to cover it to create a dark environment that feels safe to the hermit crab. If you choose this method, no heat source is required.  Buy gauges for your isolation unit if it is to be a stand alone unit. Small kritter keepers placed in the main tank do not require gauges. Smaller food and water dishes are also needed.


Last, but not least, shells. Prepare to become an amateur shell collector. Each crab needs several empty shells to choose from. Do not buy painted shells. They are a waste of money and harmful to the crabs. Buying your shells at the pet store will be more expensive and you will not have a much of a selection. You should do some research online for the types of shells that are popular so you don’t waste your money.

And what will all of this cost me??

Let’s assume you are purchasing everything new, including a 20 gallon tank. Cost will go up with tank size of course.


  • 20 Gallon Aquarium         $ 25.00
  • 2 bags of play sand   $7.00
  • 2 med reptile water dishes    $15.00
  • 1 med reptile food dish    $ 8.00
  • 1 pkg of 2 forest moss bricks    $10.00
  • 1 Glass aquarium lid    $20.00
  • 16 Watt UTH    $40.00
  • 1 Box Instant Ocean    $8.00
  • 1 Bottle Prime water conditioner    $5.00

Approximately $140.00 and that’s without any hermit crabs, a light or spare shells. So much for hermit crabs being a cheap, easy, throw away pet. This may seem like a lot of information but honestly, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.


Substrates for hermit crabs

PPS Minimizing the Impact

Refining the purpose of isolation

Hermit Crab Feeding Guide

Safe and Unsafe Wood for Hermit Crabs

Safe and Unsafe Food for Hermit Crabs

Suitable Shells for Hermit Crabs

What is molting?

Do Hermit Crabs Need a Light?

Global Temperature and Precipitation Maps by Month

Are you ready for a land hermit crab?


Are you ready for a land hermit crab? Photo credit – Amber Miner

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). You will need enough of a depth to cover your largest Land Hermit Crab; three times the height is sufficient for them to bury.

Heat Source:

An Under Tank Heater or U.T.H. is a heat pad made especially for small animals and reptiles. Despite the name, the UTH is used on the back wall of your habitat. 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 wall of the tank and objects in the tank.. You may need a thermostat with probe to regulate your temperature.

If you are more experienced pet owner, an overhead light can also provide warmth in your tank as well as needed UVB exposure.

Three Dishes:

Use non-metallic, non-porous dishes for your fresh water dish, another for your ocean water pond, and one for food. Water dishes must be deep enough for self submersion by your largest crab.



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/Conditioner:

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.

Ocean Salt:

Ocean water is required for land hemit crabs. Mix according to package directions for a salt water aquarium A salinity of 34 to 36 ppt or a specific gravity from 1.021 to 1.026 is a good target.




It is important to feed a balanced diet, with new foods offered on a daily basis. Commercial pellets should never be fed. Foods containing ethoxyquin, fish meal, copper sulfate, added salt, sugar, preservatives should never be fed. Our hermit crab food guide.



Empty and refill water dish and salt water pond

Empty and clean the food dish (no chemicals)

Offer a different food each day, remove previous meals when funky

Check the humidity level is within range (50-60% or relative humidity 70-80%)

Check the temperature 75-85F and that it is stable

Verify lid is secure and escape proof

Visually inspect power cords and airlines for signs of damage


Clean all bowls and dishes without chemicals

Pick through the substrate for food and feces

Remoisten/ replenish your moss


Check decor for mold or fungus

Wipe down walls of tank with vinegar and water, or ocean water mixture.(Avoid cleaning chemicals eg. bleach)

Inspect water pools for damage or signs of leaks or cracks

If you use filters, change your filters and thoroughly clean the housing


Check batteries in gauges or sensors


Replace your UVB bulb

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; heating; substrate; gauges; water pools and food bowl; tank decorations; background and other items such as seashells; quality food for a proper diet… 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. 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.

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 place them for adoption.


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.

Choose Carefully

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. I

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.

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.

Your Time

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 Cost

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 triple the height of the largest hermit crab.

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.


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.