There are a number of different kinds of hermit crabs. In fact there are more than 1,100 different types of hermit crabs. Most of these crabs have an odd shaped abdomen and carry a gastropod shell (snail shell) around with them to protect them and serve as their home. This characteristic is what hermit crabs are known for. Most species are aquatic and many make really interesting creatures on the bottom of saltwater tanks and saltwater reefs. There are also a number of terrestrial (land) hermit crab species sold as pets.
Terrestrial Hermit Crabs as Pets
There are about 15 different species of terrestrial hermit crabs in the world. Three of these are very popular in the pet trade and four more species can be found occasionally. The most common ones found in the pet trade are the Caribbean Hermit Crab (or Purple Pincher named after it's one large pincher) and the Ecudorian Hermit Crab (often called an Eccie). While the general care of each hermit crab is similar, the Ecudorian hermit crab has some very important differences that can mean life or death to the crab so you will want to pay attention to the crab that you buy.
Credit: ZooFari, Wikipedia, CC BYCredit: ZooFari, Wikipedia, CC BY
What Hermit Crab Do I Have?
Before you get too far you will want to make sure that you know what kind of hermit crab you have. It's a good idea to ask the store or person you purchased the crab from and then double check to make sure that you do indeed have that type of crab. This will make it possible for you to get a jump start on your research.
If that doesn't work out for you then you should start by looking at the pinchers of your crabs. Purple pincher crabs have one large and definitely purple pincher that makes them easy to identify. Often this pincher is on top when the crab is in its shell making it easy to see even in its shell.
The Ecudorian hermit crab is blue/green in color when small and adds orange/tan to itself as it gets older. Their pinchers are the same color as the rest of their body and their entire body matches itself without a lot of color variation in an individual.
If you may have one of the more exotic breeds you will want to do more research on both their care and to identify them correctly. There can be major differences between the species that you will want to know to give them the best life possible.
Setting Up a Terrarium
Setting up a terrarium is a little more complicated that many of the stores will tell you, but isn't hard at all. First you will need a container. Most stores will try to sell you a small “Critter Keeper” or even a fancy hermit crab home. The problem is that these are not the best choices for your hermit crabs due to space and ease of use. It is recommended that you have a large space for your hermit crabs. You should have at least a 10 gallon tank or terrarium. Bigger is often better and you can only hold two or three crabs in that 10 gallon tank or terrarium. If choosing a terrarium you should get one that is set up so you can still give them deep substrate. Other things your terrarium needs are:
- Substrate: You can use a variety of substrate and it is often best to offer more than one option so that they can choose where they want to dig. Sand and soil are two options though there are many other choices. The substrate must be deep enough that the crab can burrow into it. Often you should do around 3 or 4 inches for small crabs on up to 5 to 7 inches for the jumbos.
- Pools; You need at least a water dish for your crabs, but a pool can be nice. If you have Ecudorian hermit crabs you must provide them with fresh water and salt water (made with “hermit crab salt” or a salt water mix for saltwater aquariums and not just table salt or sea salt). These crabs live on the shore and need salt water for long term survival. If you have a sponge in there you will keep the humidity higher, easier and you will make it easier for the smaller crabs to enjoy the pool. Water conditioner should be added to any water that you add to your hermit crab's terrarium because they are sensitive to chlorine and other common chemicals in the tap water. You will need to get a water conditioner that is designed for hermit crabs or for fish tanks. Either will work and the fish tank dechlorinator is often cheaper.
- Decorations: It is also a good idea to offer them a variety of decorations to climb on and to hide in or under. This does make them harder to find, but at the same time it is good for them and more natural.
Food and Water
Food is an important part of every diet. In most cases pet stores recommend that you feed your crab a diet of hermit crab food with hermit crab treats and the occasional fruit or vegetable. However, most crab keepers now believe that you can keep your hermit crab on a diet that is similar to your own (minus any junk food). They are naturally scavengers and enjoy fruits, vegetables, meats, seeds, and nuts. You can also add in crunchy leaves that you are sure don't have chemicals on them and that have been washed and dried. Other things that are good for them are cuttle bones (ground up for calcium), seafood, peanut butter, honey, cereal pieces, cooked eggs, and even popcorn. You should avoid giving them a lot of oils and avoid seasonings on their foods. You can serve them some hermit crab food and some hermit crab snacks, but it should be low on the list of foods they get. You can also get fruit and plant iguana food, escargot, spirulina based fish foods, dried shrimp or plankton, seaweeds, fish foods with out bad preservatives. High quality foods are the best option.
Water can be given in a small dish instead of a pool. The pool is the best option because it will allow your hermit crab to get wet and to clean itself. If you are using a small dish make sure they can get at it, that they can't drown (sponges and pebbles help with small hermit crabs around), and that you always treat the water for chlorine before you put your hermit crabs in there.
Shelters aren't necessary for your hermit crab, but offering places to hide will make your hermit crab less stressed. It is important to make them comfortable and to provide them with a feeling of safety because they are easily stressed.
Taking care of your hermit crabs is no easy task. You don't want to just leave it at the basics. You will enjoy the time you have with your hermit crabs more if you take the time to learn more about them. It will indeed take a bit of time, but in the end you could have a lot of time with your hermit crab and you will be able to enjoy them all the more during those years. Hermit crabs can live for as many as 40 years if you take care of them right!