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How can I Care for my Hermit Crab?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 17, 2024
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The most important thing to remember when caring for a terrestrial hermit crab is that a healthy crab is a happy crab. Properly caring for your pet could result in up to twenty years of enjoyable companionship. A pet hermit crab requires very little maintenance, but what it does require is very important.

The first thing to do to care for a hermit crab is to set up an appropriate habitat. The small wire or plastic cages provided at boardwalks or pet stores won't work long-term. These animals need a lot of space to climb and move around, as they travel extensively in the wild. They are also avid climbers, so make sure your habitat has a lid to prevent escapes. A glass aquarium of at least ten gallons is sufficient.

The substrate, or the material at the bottom of the habitat, should consist of sand. You can use play sand, available at home improvement stores. Even better is sand purchased from a pet store that contains supplemental calcium. Be sure to provide objects for your hermit crab to climb on, such as drift wood, rocks, or a small piece of chicken wire.

It is also important to provide a large selection of empty shells. The shells should be larger than the one the crab is already in. Be sure to check the opening of the shell rather than the size of the entire shell. Shells that appear to be bigger may have a smaller opening than your crab’s current selection.

A pet hermit crab requires a high humidity level in order to breathe. The habitat should be misted with water daily in order to maintain humidity, especially in air conditioned and heated homes. Placing a humidifier near the cage is a great idea too. It is also helpful to keep a wet natural sea sponge in the habitat. In air conditioned rooms, you should supply a heat rock as well.

Hermit crabs also require fresh drinking water. Provide your pet with a shallow container of water that contains gravel or rocks to prevent the crab from drowning. Regular kitchen bowls are fine to use for drinking water, but pet supply stores usually carry water bowls made of rock that add aesthetic interest to the terrarium.

In the wild, hermit crabs are scavengers, so feeding your pet a variety of different foods will keep it healthy. Crackers, vegetables, and fruits are appropriate foods. You can also buy specially formulated food at a pet store to guarantee that your hermit crab is getting a balanced diet.

It is very important to provide foods that are high in calcium. Some hermit crabs enjoy snacking on egg shells, which meet this nutritional need. A combination of store-bought food and foods that you provide is the best way to keep your it healthy. Be sure to remove uneaten food to prevent mold and bugs.

A healthy hermit crab will grow larger and must shed its exoskeleton by molting about every six months. Many people think that their pet is dead when it is simply molting and dispose of the crab while it is still alive. A hermit crab will usually bury itself in the sand or hide under an object for days or weeks when it begins to molt. It must leave its shell to molt, and at that time it will not move and may appear to be dead. You can tell very easily whether your pet is molting or dead by smelling it, since a seemingly lifeless crab that is molting will not have an offensive odor.

It is important not to touch or handle a molting crab. Doing so could be life-threatening for the crab, because it takes a while for the new exoskeleton to harden. It is also critical not to remove the skin that is shed, because the crab needs to eat it to regain the calcium lost through molting. Calcium is what causes the exoskeleton to become hard. The best course of action is to leave your hermit crab alone until you see that it has become active again. You will also be able to notice the difference in color between the hardened and unhardened skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of habitat is best for a hermit crab?

A hermit crab thrives in a humid, temperature-controlled environment that mimics their natural tropical habitat. A glass aquarium with a secure lid is ideal to maintain humidity levels between 70-80% and temperatures around 75-85°F. Use a substrate of sand or coconut fiber for burrowing, and provide plenty of climbing structures and hiding places.

How often should I change the water in my hermit crab's tank?

Hermit crabs require both fresh and saltwater sources for drinking and bathing. Change the water daily to ensure it's clean and free from contaminants. Use dechlorinated water or a water conditioner to remove harmful chemicals, and ensure the saltwater is made with marine-grade salt, not table salt.

What do hermit crabs eat, and how often should they be fed?

Hermit crabs are omnivores and enjoy a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and occasional protein like fish or cooked egg. Feed them small amounts in the evening and remove uneaten food within 24 hours to prevent spoilage. Supplement their diet with calcium and carotenoids to support shell health and coloration.

How can I tell if my hermit crab is molting, and what should I do?

Molting is a natural process where hermit crabs shed their exoskeleton to grow. Signs include lethargy, digging, or refusal to eat. During this time, isolate the molting crab in a separate container with moist substrate to reduce stress and prevent disturbance from other crabs. Avoid handling and provide extra calcium for shell development.

How do I choose the right-sized shell for my hermit crab?

Hermit crabs need a variety of shells to choose from as they grow. Offer shells slightly larger than their current one, with smooth interiors and openings about the size of their largest claw. Shells should be free of cracks and holes. Providing multiple options encourages natural shell-switching behavior.

What are some common signs of stress or illness in hermit crabs?

Common signs of stress or illness in hermit crabs include lethargy, excessive shell-switching, surface molting, and loss of limbs. Stress can be caused by improper habitat conditions, such as incorrect humidity or temperature, lack of hiding places, or inadequate diet. Consult a veterinarian specializing in exotic pets if you notice these symptoms.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon345572 — On Aug 20, 2013

I found red stuff in my hermit crab tank. Is it algae? Is it normal and is it going to harm my crabs? --Sandi

By anon332238 — On Apr 27, 2013

@anon222126: Not to be rude, but you should have done some sort of research on hermit crabs. Hermit crabs are nocturnal, which means it's completely normal for them to get up and walk around at night. In fact, it's great he's active for that long. Mine only gets up for about 30-40 minutes a night.

By anon307417 — On Dec 05, 2012

I have two hermit crabs -- a medium one and a large one. The medium molted over the summer. It's fall now and he's molting again on the surface. I checked on him today and after about a week into his molt he's outside of his shell sitting beside it. He's not limp, but he's sitting up and is very still. What's going on?

By mmoore — On Dec 01, 2012

I bought four hermit crabs last Wednesday. One died on Friday. I left it alone until Sunday (smelled rotten). Two of the three left are not very active and stay buried unless I dig them out to bathe them. As soon as I put them back in their crabitat, they go back under. The other is one active, walking around the crabitat and climbing. I haven't seen signs of them eating or getting in water for a few days. Should I worry or is it normal? I do change their food and water every night.

By anon285942 — On Aug 18, 2012

I have two hermit crabs and the other day I went to pick one up and the the legs came out of the shell limply and it has not moved and the the other hermit sleeps an inch away from it. I'm worried they fought and it died.

By anon222126 — On Oct 14, 2011

our crab has been with us for six weeks. we rarely see him unless we wake in the middle of the night. he changed shells shortly after we got him and now stays buried most of the time. he only seems active for about two hours during the night when he eats and looks at his tank. is this normal.

By sandythecrab — On Oct 05, 2011

Please help. My beloved hermit crab sandy started molting about two weeks ago. I've had her for almost two years. I love her dearly and don't want anything to happen to her. I love animals. I have read everything about animals and am really stumped about this.

She is in a separate cage with water and her old exoskeleton away from her brother/husband rocky and was seemingly fine, but recently she's been smelling like sea water like where I got her. I know she's not dead, but please help. I'm crying and don't know what to do. Thank you so much. Please reply soon!

By anon183641 — On Jun 05, 2011

I had six hermit crabs, but a couple of days ago I found one completely out of its shell. I've checked all the empty shells around and the shell that he was living in and they're empty. He was in the corner 'naked' and not moving. We picked him up and nothing. Does this mean he is dead? And if so, what did he die from?

By anon167999 — On Apr 14, 2011

My name is jared and i have nine hermit crabs and my one hermit crab Gizmo won't set his shell down when he walks around. is something wrong? and how can i help?

By anon165673 — On Apr 05, 2011

I have 23 hermit crabs and I've had seven of them for six years and they are doing very well, but my three new crabs are not moved except when i put them on my bedroom floor to let them walk around. Then they walk like crazy! Whats wrong with them? I got them two months ago.

By anon162361 — On Mar 23, 2011

I just got a hermit crab and he's buried himself in his dirt. I am kind of scared he is going to suffocate. Also, I was wondering how long a hermit crab could live out of his shell. Is it dangerous? I'm going to get a new shell soon because Ebony is molting.

By anon160432 — On Mar 15, 2011

Ortizm, you can keep the carrier try putting a wet washcloth over the tank which will produce humidity which the hermit crab needs to breathe and buy a hermit crab heater to keep temp a minimum of 75 degrees. I think the crab would get stressed being carried around a lot. Stress causes crabs to loose claws but the claw will grow back next molt! best of luck.

By anon158273 — On Mar 06, 2011

My hermit crab was moving one night, and the next day, it was out of its shell lying limp, with her eyes hanging down. It hasn't moved, but she has lost a claw. We thought she was alive, and we took her out to give her a bath. But she sat in the water, not moving like normal. She has been like this all day. Is she dead?

By anon157838 — On Mar 04, 2011

we have a hermit crab that is a little red guy. His name's ashton. My son got him for christmas. I have started noticing that his feet and claw "ends" have been turning white. I believe he molted last month but what does the white tips of his feet and claws mean. Please help me with my worry.

By Jordan12 — On Jan 11, 2011

My name is Jordan and I'm a ten year old boy in victoria. i have had four hermits and six counting my brother's. Three days ago i bought two to replace the ones that died and i was happy, but every day the humidity goes down by 5 in the tank and i don't know how to raise it from 35 to about 50?

Anyway, when a hermit crab loses legs, claws and other parts it's a sigh of stress, not molting. Molting is when they go under the ground from about 4-40 days and shed their skin and then after that they eat the skin to regain from the loss of calcium. Also spray it well with water and if he still doesn't move, try putting him in to a bowl of the bath water.

By the way, if he smells like rotten dead fish he is dead. Anyway, please reply to my question.

By anon131602 — On Dec 02, 2010

By the strong "death smell" I am assuming the crab is dead. It has smelled like death for several days. We have not had time to bury him. Today, he is out of his shell. Do molting crabs sometimes smell very strongly of death? Very confused!

By anon131052 — On Nov 30, 2010

dear anon118848: he is under stress,most likely. to make sure it is not mites, turn him on his back and spray him so he stretches out, if you see specks crawling around, he has mites. yet he could be molting, but i doubt it.

thank you-ariel paige

By anon123892 — On Nov 03, 2010

We have a medium size crab that has been in the molting stage for a week or so - exoskeleton off - as of two days ago he has left his shell - he has spent much of time by the water bowl and now is in the corner of his cage - we gently misted him and he is alive. Do we need to rinse the sand off and try the cup method to get him back in his shell or should we just leave him alone in the dark and let him gather energy/finish molting?

By anon120749 — On Oct 21, 2010

When your tank smells, the Hermit Crab is dead. It's a strong fishy odor. Other than that, there is no odor whatsoever.

By anon118848 — On Oct 15, 2010

Please help! I bought two hermit crabs for my two older children. one sponge bob the other mr. crab. Mr. crab is always on the move and sponge bob only really moves around when you take him out of the tank.

We have had them for a little over a month and for the past five days sponge bob hasn't moved at all away from his water dish. I picked him up and put him on the floor to see if he would start walking around, but no luck. After about 10 minutes of waiting for him to walk around I picked him up to put back in his tank, and as I picked him up one of his legs fell off. Some people tell me he's molting and to leave him alone.

Also there's a musty smell coming from the tank and I don't know when, but Mr.crab flipped over spongebob and I then noticed that he's turning white.

I blocked off Mr.crab so he can't get at Sponge bob anymore. And on that note he lost a claw. I'm not sure if he's dead or molting. Please someone help me I really don't know what to do with Sponge bob.

By anon109709 — On Sep 08, 2010

My hermit crab's tank smelled awful so i washed it. I then smelled my hermit crab and he smelled really disgusting. he lost a leg last weekend and i haven't seen him move like at all. how do i know if he is dead?

By Adil — On Apr 27, 2010

I am a hermit crab expert.First of all, wire cages do not help maintain humidity --an essential thing!

By anon78710 — On Apr 19, 2010

Dearest alexissierra and ortizm,

I have had a hermit crab who died while molting. The only way to check is to take a spray bottle with water in it and squirt some lightly on him. if he doesn't move i am afraid he's gone to crabby heaven!

By anon76882 — On Apr 12, 2010

i have three hermit crabs. i love them a lot.

By anon63291 — On Jan 31, 2010

I'm 14 and i own an hermit crab. I've had him over five months now and I'm a little worried about him molting. what do i do? i know to leave him alone, but he's a very shy fella and i love him dearly! his name is Hermy and he's awesome!

By anon19458 — On Oct 12, 2008

OK, if you see the crab's torso twitch then it may be alive but you ave to act NOW!!! to check pace the crab in a shallow dish of warm water, but not hot. If it starts to move then it may well be alive. Try not to carry him around for at least a few days so he can settle in. get him a bigger cage and make sure he is not too cold and the air is humid. Bext of luck!!! Xx.NayNay.xX

By anon15906 — On Jul 24, 2008

when do you put a new shell in the habitat for a molting crab?

By alexissierra — On Jun 20, 2008

I bought my daughters three hermit crabs two weeks ago. For the past week, the crab that seemed the most active and alert has not moved. It is laying on the surface, but is for the most part in it's shell. It lost a leg last week just before. I'm not sure if molting or dead. The tank smells and I just cleaned it a week ago. Do all molting crabs come out of their shell? I don't want to dispose of it if it is not dead. I'm not sure what to do.

By ortizm — On May 30, 2008

My daughter has had her hermit crab for about a week. We put him in a crab carrier we got from a pet store. She has been carrying him around a lot, so I think he has been under some stress. He lost a claw a couple of days ago. We found him out of his shell this morning. He is not moving. One little leg on his back torso twitches every once in a while. Is he dead? I have had a variety of pets-cats, dogs, ferrets, rats, fish, birds-but I am out of my element with this one. I have heard that they are easy to care for, but maybe we did something wrong. Any suggestions? I know now that the "tank" is too small, but the pet store person told me it would be okay. If "Nemo" is gone, we want to try again, but how should we go about it the right way?

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