By Sara Caruso
Whether you are a novice, or have years of experience caring for hermit crabs, here are some facts you may not know about these interesting little creatures.
1. The hermit crabs most commonly found in the pet trade are known as Purple Pincers (Coenobita clypeatus). They originate from the Caribbean and are one of the hardiest hermit species.
2. In the wild, Purple Pincers spend most of their time climbing and borrowing under trees.
3. Despite their name, hermit crabs live in large groups and are very social. This is why it is important to adopt three or more.
4. Hermit crabs communicate by chirping. Their soft high pitch chirps sound like a small frog. Chirping can mean a territorial dispute or that the crab was startled.
5. Purple Pincers have modified gills that allow them to breathe on land. Water stored in their shell creates humidity allowing for the exchange of oxygen.
6. Wild female hermit crabs can hold hundreds of eggs inside their shell until they mature. When the eggs are ready to hatch, she heads to a tide pool or ocean and releases them.
7. Hermit crabs have different odors that can indicate their health. A healthy crab smells like maple syrup. A very slight egg smell could mean your crab will soon molt. If your crab smells like an old boot, it may mean the start of a bacterial infection.
8. Hermit crabs molt their exoskeleton to grow. The average crab molts once a year. Younger smaller crabs may molt multiple times a year, while bigger older crabs, those over ten years old, may molt only once in eighteen months.
9. In captivity, hermit crabs can live up to forty years when kept in the right conditions. In the wild, their life span is usually short. Much of a wild hermit’s survival depends on finding the right size empty seashell to protect its soft body from predators. If the shell is too small the hermit crab cannot withdraw far enough into the shell to avoid being eaten. So, hermits instinctively change shells, looking for that perfect fit.
10. Hermits also change their shell as they grow. Some hermits will try on several shells before making a commitment. When selecting new larger shells to offer your hermit crabs, pick those with an aperture, or opening, that is a bit wider than the shell it currently occupies. The best time to offer new shells is around and during a full moon.
11. Humidity and temperature are vital for hermit crab survival. They thrive in temperatures between 70 and 76 degrees with 80% humidity. Monitor your crabs for any signs of temperature stress, such as lethargy or dropping limbs.
12. Never use a sponge to humidify a hermit crab enclosure. A damp or wet sponge is a breeding ground for bacteria that can be deadly to hermit crabs. Instead, use a spray bottle to finely mist the crab enclosure with clean water twice a day. When misting, hold the spray bottle about a foot above the enclosure.
13. Because hermit crabs are nocturnal scavengers, they prefer to be fed at night. In the morning, remove any
leftover food and replace their water.
14. Hermit crabs are scavengers by nature and like to pick at their food. Some of their favorite foods are cooked chicken on the bone, ribs, pork, fish, broccoli, apples, mangoes, unsalted nuts, corn on the cob, cooked egg served with bits of broken eggshell, and occasionally a little bit of un-greasy pizza. (Yes. Seriously, eggshells and pizza.) Both are good sources of calcium. Once a week, a pinch of sea salt should be added to their food.
15. When about to molt, your hermit crab can appear to be lethargic. Do not panic. Leave it alone for a few days and see what happens. After a molt, the crab will be soft and weak. Offer it water and do not handle it. A hermit crab’s new exoskeleton takes about seven days to harden. Hermit crabs will eat their molted exoskeleton to reabsorb important minerals and help their new exoskeleton grow.
16. It is important to handle your hermit crabs so that they become accustomed to you. When interacting with them for the first time, place the crabs on your completely flattened palm. Any wrinkle may give the crabs something to hold on to, resulting in an accidental pinch. After they get used to be handled, hermits tend to use their big claw less to grip.
17. Hermit crabs do not carry human diseases. As with any pet, it is important, to wash your hands. Before interacting with your hermit crabs or their food it is extremely important to wash your hands thoroughly to remove any trace of sunscreen or insect repellent.
18. Under supervision, hermit crabs enjoy exploring their surrounding indoor environment. LEGO® building, dollhouses, and obstacle courses made from blocks are great exercise and provided enrichment. It is fun to watch them explore.
19. Hermit crabs have tiny stiff hairs on their legs and thorax that help them sense their surroundings. They will touch new food with their antennae to taste it and make sure it is good to eat.
20. Hermit crabs like warm dark spaces to hide. If you lose your crab in your house, check your shoes and under furniture.
Hermit crabs make fun and interesting pets that never cease to amaze. With proper care, your hermit crabs can live long happy lives.