Caring for Hermit Crabs 101

buying a hermit crab at a beach souvineer shop.Congratulations … you went to the beach, visited a souvenir shop, and now you’re the proud owner of a colorful shell hermit crab that you have absolutely no clue what you’re supposed to do with!  You’ve probably already read 7 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy a Hermit Crab, and now you’re hoping PETA doesn’t show up protesting at your door (okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme).  But you might be a bit overwhelmed, and you’re kicking yourself for telling your child “Yes, you can have one.”

I feel you … that was me last summer.  During a visit to Fort Morgan, Alabama, we took an afternoon trip into Gulf Shores, and my kiddo fell in love with the colorful shells crawling around in the souvenir gift shop.  We had been talking about getting her a pet to take care of and teach her responsibility, and these adorable and very active little creatures seemed perfect.  We said yes on a whim.  I mean, how hard could it be to take care of a creature that resides in a tiny box full of colorful rocks … and for an added bonus, how much fun is it that they have a beautifully painted shell, right?

buying a hermit crab at a beach souvineer shop.WOW!!!  Little did we know that the little box with beautiful color rocks that we paid $15 was not only way too small for the little guy, but those rocks were also harmful to him.  Little did we know that two days later we would be back at the souvenir shop buying a second hermit crab after learning they’re actually very social creatures who need friends.  Little did we know that when we returned from our vacation, we’d be spending close to $100 to build an appropriate “crabitat” for our new friends.  Little did we know those beautifully painted shells they were in were not only bad for them, but chances are, they actually hated living in them, too.  In fact, it would take us six more months and two dead hermit crabs to learn about how important shells are for hermit crabs (more on that shortly).

Yes … that cute little creature you thought was going to be fairly inexpensive and easy to take care of … you were wrong!  Actually, you weren’t really wrong.  Once you get your crabitat setup for your hermit crab, learn what they eat, and learn to appreciate their lifestyle, hermit crabs really aren’t difficult to take care of.  Unless your nocturnal, you probably won’t see them a whole lot either.   But you’ve got a steep learning curve to ensure your little critter gets the best life it can possibly have now that it’s going to be stuck in a box at your home for the rest of his life.  (On the bright side, you did rescue it from the horrible living environment it had in the souvenir shop).

Let me share the things with you that we have learned over the last year that will help you get your hermit crabs more comfortable in their new home.  I also have a Hermit Crab Shopping List of things you may need to purchase for your Hermit Crab.  Good news … they’re all available on Amazon (though you can also get most of them at your local pet shop … and maybe a few things at your local WalMart).  If you purchase anything through one of the Amazon links, I do get a small percentage from your purchase from their advertisement on this page.  But that money just helps support this website … and building our crabitat among other things.

What Do Hermit Crabs Need?

What do hermit crabs need? Checkout this affordable hermit crab crabitat.A Nice Living Space
The very first thing you need to do for your new little family member (aka hermit crab) is build it a crabitat.  If you’re wondering how big of a tank you need for your hermit crab, a good rule of thumb is 5 gallons of space for every 2 crabs.  So a 10 gallon aquarium will do great if you’re just starting out with two smaller crabs.  Many websites caution that you’ll need a bigger tank as they grow because hermit crabs need plenty of space to climb and to dig.

A Place to Bury
They also need plenty of space to bury. While many websites will tell you that sand is the substrate of choice for hermit crabs because they like to burrow down into it, we have splitting the tank with half sand and half coconut fiber bedding works best for your two hermit crabs.  One of them spends most of its time in the fiber bedding, while the other splits its time between digging down into the sand and hanging out in the fiber bedding .

The most important thing to note is that your bedding needs to be deep enough that they can actually bury themselves down into it.  This is important when they start molting or when they feel stressed.  Most likely, your hermit crab will bury itself for a fair amount of time (ours buried for two months) once it is given a proper habitat.  This is because they are so stressed from their life at the souvenir shop, that they have to destress.  Give them the time to do this.  Never ever ever dig up your hermit crab (unless you smell a dead fish smell coming from the tank).  They know what is best for them, and when they are underground, they want to be left alone.

There is some good news.  The fiber bedding is fairly inexpensive, and a little bit goes a long way.  You might be tempted to buy the calcium sand or colored sand sold in the pet stores.  Not only are these inexpensive, but they are also bad for the hermit crabs.  You can truly just purchase an inexpensive bad of playground sand at a home improvement store, and it will work great for your new friend. The calcium-based sands are beautiful, but many websites will tell you that this type of sand can actually get stuck on your hermit crab once it dries.  So if you do decide to use it, mix it well with playground or other sand.

Fresh & Salt Water
Hermit crabs also need water.  You’ll need two water bowls (one for fresh water and one for salt water).  It’s recommended to use distilled water.  You should have a spray bottle, so that you can mist down the tank at least once per day.  If you utilize a heat lamp on top of your tank during the day, you might need to mist more often.  Hermit crabs breathe via gills, so the tank has to have humidity, or they will suffocate.  You don’t want to use water from your tap because it probably has chlorine in it.  You can buy drops to put into water to in essence remove the chlorine, but we have found the easiest thing to do is keep a gallon of distilled water on hand.  We also recommend that you line the back of your hermit crab aquarium/tank with a coconut fiber carpet.  Not only does this give the hermit crabs something to crawl on, but you can also mist it down with water to help ensure proper humidity in the cage.

We don’t use the sponges for our hermit crabs.  We did when we first got them, but then we read so many different websites about the dangers of sponges and how they weren’t needed in a crabitat.  So we ditched using them.  But if you want to use them, some are linked below.

Hermit crabs are tropical creatures, so they like it to be worm.  Ideal temperatures for their crabitat are between 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 27 degrees Celsius). If the temperature drops below 72 degrees Fahrenheit regularly, your hermit crab is likely to stay buried from being stressed.  You can by a thermometer and humidity gage to put on your tank to monitor both the temperature and humidity of the cage.

What Do Hermit Crabs Eat?

What do hermit crabs eat?If you’ve read this far, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the food they sold you in the souvineer shop isn’t what hermit crabs eat.  I’m honestly not even really sure what is in the little bottle of $8 flakes we bought when we got our hermit crabs.  I do know everything I read online said it doesn’t have the nutrition they need in it, and our hermit crabs never ate it.

Instead, we found both of our crabs like the fish food freeze dried shrimp.  One of our crabs loves bacon and ham.  Another one loves popcorn and raisins.  Neither of them like eggs or any of the fresh fruit we have put into the crabitat (though many websites swear these are foods their crabs love, so give it a try).  They both like the dried fruit out of a Quaker Strawberry Oatmeal packet, but they usually skip the oats.

The other thing we always make sure our hermit crabs have to pick on is a hermit crab mineral block.  Some people say that their crabs never touch them.  Our crabs seem to enjoy them as a treat.  I usually put one new one in every week.

How many Shells Do Hermit Crabs Need?

If you take nothing else away from this article — heed this advice.  Buy your hermit crabs a selection of hermit crab shells and put them in the tank.  We didn’t learn about this until one of our hermit crabs had killed two other hermit crabs.  First it killed his friend we bought for him at the souvenir shop.  We didn’t know this for about four months, when we cleaned out the cage and discovered all that was left of “Tom” was his blue shell with a picture of “Tom” painted on it and a claw.  Apparently “Superman” (the other hermit crab) not only attacked him for his shell, but he also ate him.  Knowing they are social creatures, we went and purchased two more hermit crabs and followed the recommendations for introducing new hermit crabs into an existing crabitat.

Within just about an hour, Superman surfaced and immediately began fighting with the larger of the two new crabs.  We had read online this was normal, as they were determining dominance, so we thought nothing of it.  We left to run errands for a few hours, and when we returned, the new hermit crab was dead.  Not wanting the other hermit crab to suffer the same fate, we moved him to the small tank we had from our original crab purchase (isolation tank) until we did a bit more reading.  That’s when we learned that hermit crabs will defend their shells, to death.  If you don’t have enough shells for your crabs to pick from, they will kill other hermit crabs to get their shell if they want it.  It truly broke my heart to know that had I just known this in advance, all 3 hermit crabs would probably be alive today.

So we now have a large selection of shells in different shapes, sizes, and colors for our hermit crabs to pick from.

PS: If you didn’t know this, you need to get rid of the painted shells they came home in if you purchased them from a souvenir shop.  These shells often have paint that is toxic for the crabs on them.  Additionally, most crabs truly don’t like them.  When they abandon their painted shell, pull it out and pitch it in the trash (or let your kid keep it as a play toy … whatever works for your family).

How Do I Care for Hermit Crabs?

Assuming you’ve already read everything above, the only other thing you need to know is that hermit crabs love to climb and play.  They are fairly curious, but they also like to hide.  We have an assortment of things for them to hide in and climb on.  You can make your own coconut shell hideout if you want to purchase a fresh coconut from the store, or you can buy one online.  All of our hermit crabs seem to love the coconut shell hideout the most.

We also have a few different fish tank hideouts that we rotate to keep things interesting in the crabitat.  Just be careful not to put these under the heat lamp because they can get really hot.  On that note, we don’t keep our heat lamp on all the time.  We only turn it on if we notice the temperature or humidity is dropping in the crabitat (usually because we’ve changed the temperature in our house).

Our hermit crabs also love the cholla wood sticks we have for them to climb on and pick at.  I regularly move them around the tank to mix things up.  They’re fairly inexpensive.  I also mist these down with water each time I mist the tank.  It’s just another easy way to add moisture into the tank and ensure there is good humidity for our little crabs.

Another fairly inexpensive idea is to use fake flowers or plants.  One of my hermit crabs loves hiding under a bright pink flower in the crabitat.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live?

If you thought the cute little hermit crab would live as long as the pet hamster you had when you were a child (3-5 years), you’re in for a shock.    Most hermit crabs in captivity live between 10-20 years if you maintain the proper living environment for them. They will grow a lot over the course of their life, so you need to ensure you keep the shell selection sizes growing with them, and when the time comes, that you may need to upgrade the size of their living space, too.  Unfortunately, a lot of hermit crabs die within one to two years of living in captivity because people don’t make the investment to care for them properly.

Do Hermit Crabs Make Good Pets for Kids?

I guess that depends on how you define “good”.  It took us a full 12 months to get our hermit crabs to where they would come out on a regular basis (though usually only at night).  It took about six months for the “original” hermit crab and the “new” hermit crab to become friends.  I cannot tell you how happy I was the day I finally saw them sleeping together, burying together, and hiding together.  For the first time as a hermit crab owner, I felt like I had done something right.  They each had a friend.

Unfortunately, our six-year-old lost interest in the hermit crabs after about a month of them being in isolation as they destressed from their life in the store.  She still plays with them from time-to-time.  We take them out to let them take a “bath” in a big bowl of water.  We also take them out to our sandbox and build them places to play.  She enjoys doing both of those things.  But as far as being a great pet to play with on a daily basis, we haven’t found that to be the case with the hermit crabs.

If I had it do over again, I wouldn’t have purchased a hermit crab as a pet.  But we’re in it for the long haul now, and we’re going to make sure our hermit crabs have the best life possible in captivity.

Hermit Crab Shopping List

10 Gallon Aquarium










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