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Profile photo of Stacy

by Stacy

Substrates for Hermit Crabs

September 25, 2012 in Caresheets


beach sand

Beach sand is cheap and re-usable in Australia, yet can be expensive in land-locked areas of the US and other countries. Most owners use playsand found at their local hardware store. Please take note of the quality when purchasing playsands. If in doubt ask other hermit crab owners what they use and ask how it works when damp. Some playsands are low-grade sand made from crushed rocks and have impurities since they are used for the building industry. If in doubt as to the quality always wash and bake your sand the first time you use it. However, not all impurities can be washed, boiled, or baked out of a substrate. Cleaning and drying sand can be messy. Make sure you cover the drains or use a plug when rinsing. Most rinse their sand and then dry it before returning it to a cleaned crabarium. Another alternative is to take the sand outside and place it in a bucket, use a hose to rinse the sand until the water runs out of the bucket and is clear. To drain the sand, place the sand into a pillow case so that your drains are not blocked up.

The positives of sand include that it is attractive to look at, especially after some heavy hermit crab traffic, with their little marks in the sand. Hermit crabs love tunneling down in sand but you must be careful that you keep an eye on the level of dampness. If there is standing water or food items in damp sand you may develop mold (mould) or bacteria. This leads to a weakened condition, stress to the hermit crabs and can mean possible death. Many use a kitty litter scoop or sieve to pick through the sand on a regular basis to remove uneaten food or refuse.
There are several brands which are not recommended. If in doubt as to the brand found locally post a message to the Forum.
Read our FAQ on Sand

River Pebbles

River Pebbles
Inexpensive and great remedy for sandy feet by for placing around the water dish. Hermit Crabs often wade through the water dish and then onto sand which then sticks to their wet exoskeleton. Placing river pebbles gives them a ‘drying off’ place and offers more traction. It can also be used to fill out a crabitat which uses more expensive substrate (aragonite, coral sand etc). The finer river pebbles are preferred since it is easier for the crab to burrow under. People that use river pebbles as a primary substrate often find their crabs burrowing under the water dish, creating a nest with the water dish as a ‘roof’ of sorts. Carol of CrabWorks has recently used river pebbles and during her early years used ultra fine gravel substrate for over thirty years with great success. You can read about it here.
Make sure that the river pebbles that you purchase are NOT coated with resin or paint and that they are heat proof if you are intending to bake or steam the pebbles sterile. Many members have tried to bake the pebbles as found in many fish tanks only to find the resin or paint melt in the process. There are many natural river pebbles which are not coated around. One brand to ask for is Ultrastone Natural River pebbles. If in doubt as to the brand found locally post a message to the Forum.

Coral Sand and Reef Sand – versatile yet fragile

Coral Sand
Coral sand can be purchased per pound/kilo from your local fish / aquarium store. It can be expensive but it is a wonderful source of calcium for your land hermit crab. It is similar to Aragonite sand. Keep an eye on the coral sand for if it gets too damp it can disintegrate so try to keep it at ‘sandcastle sand’ consistency.
“[Coral sands] are larger grit substrates rich in calcuim and trace minerals, crabs love it. Reef sand & gravel are often very dusty so you have to rinse & dry before use of shake it out well (I used to use a strainer outside to shake out excess dust) It is very porous and holds water so when washed it takes FOREVER to dry. Also much of it washes away when you rinse it, it does not hold up well for repeated washings.” (© Jenn B of LHCOS, 2001) ****Update note**** The larger grain coral sands are harder for the hermit crab to burrow and nest in for molting. The Carib Sea sugar and select grains that are oolitic are recommended to be placed within the crabitat.

Caribsea Aragonite Oolitic Select
CaribSea Aragonite Oolitic Select
Caribsea Aragonite Sugar Grain
CaribSea Aragonite Sugar grain
Caribsea Coralite Bermuda Pink
Caribsea GeoMarine Florida Crushed Coral
Geo-Marine: Florida Crushed Coral It’s the only crushed coral with aragonite, which provides up to 25 times the buffering power of other crushed corals, dolomite or oyster shell. Eliminate chronic pH problems and provide maximum surface area for water purifying bacteria. CaribSea’s Florida Crushed Coral with aragonite allows an increase in bioload by up to 50% and it never needs replacement! Approx 2-5mm diameter (1/8 – 1/4”).

Aragamax (Aragonite sand by Carib Sea)

Caribsea Aragonite Alive Bahamas Oolite
Caribsea Aragonite Alive Bahamas Oolite
Caribsea Aragonite Fiji Pink
Caribsea Aragonite Alive Fiji Pink
Caribsea Aragonite Alive Florida Crushed Coral
Caribsea Aragonite Alive Florida Crushed Coral

CaribSea’s Arag-Alive!™

Only CaribSea’s Arag-Alive!™ Live Sands contains not just the broad spectrum of marine bacteria found in the ocean, but additional specially selected strains of marine bacteria as well. Arag-Alive!™ compresses new tank cycle time and suppresses the initial ammonia spike. Arag-Alive!™ creates a natural biological balance, and makes cycling a new aquarium faster and safer. Live rocks and most invertebrates can be added immediately. Gradually introduce fish within the first 3 weeks, and do not exceed one inch of fish per 5 gallons during this time.
For a full line of coral and reef sands, visit our friends at:

Compressed Coconut Fiber Expandable Substrate

A growing number of hermit crab owners are trying coconut fiber in their tanks as a secondary substrate. There are a number of companies that produce this fine coconut fiber which is sold in bricks. Compressed Coconut fiber is marketed under names such as:

Pet-Tech Bed-a-Beast-not recommended
Bed A Beast
T-Rex Forest Bed
Forest Bedding
Zoo Med Eco Earth
Eco Earth
Note: The coconut fiber expandable substrate is meant to be used damp for tropical critters like hermit crab
If in doubt as to the brand found locally post a message to the Forum.

Substrate comparison

Quikrete Playsand

Quikrete Playsand(Hardware & Building supplies)
Poor quality sand not recommended as substrate.

SouthDown/YardRight/Old Castle Tropical Play Sand

Located at:
(Hardware eg. Home Depot)
Highly prized by land hermit crab owners and aquarium enthusiasts. Unfortunately no longer sold in the United States. Now being sold to CaribSea company.

Aragamax (Aragonite sand by Carib Sea) or Aragonite by Nature’s Ocean

Caribsea Aragamax Select

Natures Ocean Aragonite Sand
Located at:
Good Pet Stores and local fish stores / aquarium stores & online
Highly prized by land hermit crab owners and aquarium enthusiasts although it is much more expensive than the Tropical PlaySand.
Aragmax is an Oolitic aragonite sand from CaribSea. Another is made by the ESV Company.

Calci Sand

Calci sand
Located at:
Good Pet Stores and local fish stores / aquarium stores and online
Not recommended for hermit crabs. Aside from being very expensive, when wet it smells terrible, clumps and sticks to the hermit crabs.

Unsafe substrates

Substrates which we DO NOT recommend are: Corn Shavings, Cedar, Wood Shavings and other reptile beddings made for desert animals. Cedar shavings should never be used as it is toxic to all animals. The oils in cedar are used in pest control because of the damage to arthropods, which would also harm your land hermit crabs. If in doubt as to the brand found locally post a message to the Forum.

FourPaws Nature Bedding-made from fir shavings:
Nature Bedding

Photo references:

Inland Reef.com (website is no longer valid)




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