Photography and text by Sara Caruso
Hermit crab owners, whether novice or expert, have come to that moment of panic thinking, “my hermit crab is dying.” These tiny crustaceans have a reputation for only living a couple of weeks after purchase from the local shops. However, with proper care a crab can survive for 15 to 20 years or more.
The biggest hurdle that even a healthy hermit has to overcome is molting. Molting is an important part of a crustacean’s growth cycle and must happen for it to thrive. You need to prepare your crabs all year for molting with the proper diet. When a crab is nearing a molt it may become lethargic and stop eating. Sometimes you will see it drinking and filling its shell with water for long periods of time. At this time, separate it from other crabs you may have.
You may notice a growth on the side of the crab but don’t be alarmed or try to remove it. That is a nutrient-filled sack the crab uses during the molt to sustain itself, similar to a placenta. You may also see some changes to the crabs coloring as the exoskeleton slowly separates from the animal. Eventually the crab becomes quieter and reclusive to the point you may think it died. This is a crucial time for the little guy. The best thing to do is to leave it alone and watch what happens.
Then one day you look into your crab’s habitat and freak out because it looks like he died and came out of his shell, but in fact it’s the hollow exoskeleton. The exoskeleton is basically like an eggshell and just as fragile but don’t remove it from the enclosure because the crab will eat it to regain the calcium it lost during the molt.
While the whole process of molting can take a few hours, you won’t be able to see activity from your crab for about seven to ten days. A month can pass from the first time the crab becomes lethargic to when the crab molts, regains its strength and finally hardens completely. Smaller crabs molt quicker and more often while larger crabs can take much longer to regain all their strength.
With proper care, your hermit crab will continue to grow so you can enjoy it for many years.