VANESSA PIKE-RUSSELL

LAND HERMIT CRAB OWNERS SOCIETY
AND CRABSTREET JOURNAL FOUNDER

HI! My name is Vanessa Pike-Russell. I am an Australian hermit crab owner from Brisbane, Queensland Australia, originally from Wollongong, south of Sydney New South Wales, Australia.

 

I started caring for land hermit crabs whilst studying towards my Bachelor of Education at the University of Wollongong NSW. I used the university’s research paper access to read journal articles on land hermit crabs.

 

Please read my article “Are You Ready for a Land Hermit Crab” before you start. It is a comprehensive overview of land hermit crab care information.

In 2000 I wrote a book on land hermit crab care.

I will be re-publishing it soon for iPad and Kindle and on-demand printing

A little about me:

I’m a retired primary/elementary school teacher now Website Designer. I have been updating this website since 1995, after the creation of a one-page website on my land hermit crab pets. Since creating the site I have received thousands of emails a month from visitors asking questions about land hermit crab care.

 

How the obsession started:

I first came across land hermit crabs when I was five years of age. My Great-Grandfather wrote a poem about it. When I was in my second year of teacher training I was living in a one-bedroom apartment and decided that I wanted a small pet. It was a case of love at first sight.

When I entered the pet store in Warrawong, NSW I had no idea that I would be taking a land hermit crab home with me. As soon as I picked one of the land hermit crabs up and placed it gently onto my palm I was hooked! The busy antennae tickled my skin, and those cute eyes looked up at me in that adorable way only a hermit crab can.

 

A new beginning:

After taking Mornay the land hermit crab home with me I excitedly started reading the manual and felt a panic rise within. I realised that I didn’t really know a great deal about my new pet. There is a responsibility that comes with pets which makes you want to know as much as you can about their needs, and spend all of your spare time and cash to try and provide for them. At the time I was a student on limited funds, so it was a while before I had even the basics of a Glass tank, humidity gauge and some water dishes.

 

A rude awakening:

In those first days, I was naive. I thought that a plastic tub with wood shavings, plastic jar lids and a piece of driftwood constituted a crabarium. It wasn’t until I lost my first hermit crabs that I realised that there was more to keeping land hermit crabs than met the eye. After talking with a dozen different pet store employees, I realised that they were as much in the dark as I was! Having access to the University of Wollongong library, I set to the task of learning more about the land hermit crab and the type of habitat they have in the wild.

 

Researching:

While I researched, I realised that land hermit crabs were tropical, cold-blooded creatures which rely on their environment and behaviour to regulate body temperature. One of the first things I modified about my crabbing methods was to enquire about heating methods for land hermit crabs. Most pet stores recommended that I purchase a desk lamp to keep the hermit crab warm. Wrong! Desk lamps and light bulbs are not suitable as a heating method.

 

This brings me to the second important discovery – land hermit crabs breathe through modified gills which act as lungs. In order for them to breathe their environment needs to be humid. This meant that I had to add another factor to my crabbing method, keeping the humidity to my crabs’ liking. Unfortunately, since I was using a desk lamp over a plastic tub that didn’t have a lid, that was almost impossible. Once I purchased a glass tank with lid, and later an under tank heater, I started to have some success in keeping my land hermit crabs alive.

 

On the right path to success:

With the addition of a humidity and temperature gauge, I was able to monitor my tank and adjust the humidity and temperature as needed, making sure that my hermit crabs were happy and healthy within their ‘artificial tropical environment.

 

The next step:

After more research, I decided to add hiding spots to my tank and allow for the deeper substrate to encourage digging. I also noticed that my hermit crabs were moistening the sand and digging down, making nests and caves. At first, I was worried, then I realised that they must need higher humidity, and remembered that it is much easier to dig in damp sand than it is in dry. I purchased a ZooMed ReptiDish and noticed the way my hermit crabs, especially Wumba, would dig down under the ReptiDish and create a cave or nest.

 

More research:

After observing my land hermit crabs in the moulting process (pre-moult and post-moult), I wondered why some crabs moulted with ease, while others died within the same environment and situation. When I noticed that some of the crabs were stealing the shed exoskeleton of the dead crab, I realised that stress from aggression could be one factor. Another could be diet or health due to diet or prior living conditions.

The main thing I have learned is that wood shavings are NOT suitable for keeping land hermit crabs. Why on earth they were recommended in the first place, I will never know. Once I removed wood shavings and added sand, coral sand, coco peat and pebbles to my list of substrates it enabled the crabs to moisten the mediums and dig down to moult. No more desiccated hermit crabs!

Research in 1999 stated that land hermit crabs spurned leftovers, choosing foods which smelled different from their last meal. I started to vary the foods offered to land hermit crabs, and research the dietary needs of crustaceans to investigate what might be missing in the life of a captive land hermit crab.

Predictably, I realised that protein and calcium were very important in their diet, followed by chitin and foods similar to those which they would have access to in the wild, including algae, bark, fish, fruit, seaweed/kelp, sea sponges, wood – and other foods they would find on the beach or in mangrove swamps.

 

The Land Hermit Crab Owners Society:

In August 1999 I started a ONEList, Hermies, as the next step up from the many bulletin and message boards I had maintained over the years. Don and I would talk often about finding a place which afforded higher security and creating a ‘community’ for land hermit crab owners. ONEList merged into eGroups, which was then bought by Yahoo, to become Yahoo!Groups. Four years on, the community is now known as the Land Hermit Crab Owners Society, a free online society on Facebook for land hermit crab owners from around the world. We currently have over 1000 members, and still going strong!

Public Awareness:

Since starting this journey, I have learned a lot about the Pet Industry, and have established fantastic contacts within it. In February 2002 I had a stall at the Melbourne Pet and Animal Expo, which was a wonderful ‘hermit crab awareness’ event.

OzPets came over and introduced themselves, and have been a great help ever since. I also met Dr. Harry Cooper, from the Australian TV Show Harry’s Practice. Harry gave me the contact details of the program, after I introduced him to Harry the Hermit Crab, safe within an exercise ball.

Other public awareness events I have been involved in, include the PIJAC-hosted Brisbane Fish and Reptile Show, held last July (2002). As with the Melbourne Pet and Animal Expo, a wonderful bunch of land hermit crab owners and members of the land hermit crab owners society joined in to help organise the event, work on the stalls and even had time to manage a mini-convention.

Both public awareness events were a wonderful success, raising the awareness of the public and pet trade as to the needs of tropical land hermit crabs in captivity.

In July 2004 the Burkes Backyard TV show ran a road test on land hermit crabs as pets. I travelled up to CrazySean’s home in Sydney and we filmed for two hours. Only ten minutes went to air. The road test sheet can be found by visiting the Burkes Backyard website.

 

I was also interviewed by the Bulletin magazine and ABC Radio

 

Publications:

Prior to the Melbourne Pet Expo in Feb. 2002, three members of the Australian branch of the society (Mary Francis, Matthew Turnbull, and I) worked on creating a beginner’s booklet to land hermit crab care. 32 pages full of helpful information, images, links and checklists.

Since then I have created another book, Australian Land Hermit Crabs as Pets, which is 84 pages full of full-colour photos and lots of information about caring for land hermit crabs as pets. You can read more about it here.

Another publication is The Crab Street Journal, an online magazine I created with content submitted by members of the Land Hermit Crab Owners Society, which I founded in 1999.