ARE YOU READY FOR A LAND HERMIT CRAB?
Australian Land Hermit Crab Care Guide
THE BIG PICTURE
Caring for a land hermit crab is more than just food and salt. The initial set up for a land hermit crab can include much more than you previously thought. The good news is that there will never be a costly vet bill, no real expenses for medicine, or having to worm and groom.
The main costs are those of the housing; isolation kit, heating; substrate; temperature and humidity gauges; water dish, salt/ocean pond; food and treat bowl; tank decorations; background; insulation; seashells; Sea Sponges (optional); moss; Protein and Calcium Sources; and more. You are trying to offer everything a tropical land hermit crab needs while in captivity, the essentials they cannot live without.
If you cannot meet the needs of a land hermit crab, then it is best to wait until you can. It is much better to have everything set up and ready, than to be in a last minute panic when there are moulting signs or you have had your first moult. Most pets have a similar start up cost, which enables them to live comfortably and have a happy home and environment.
Contrary to popular belief, Land Hermit Crabs are not throwaway pets and deserve the same humane treatment that other animals do. Before you buy a land hermit crab, go through the checklist on the next page.
If at any time you find that you cannot meet the needs of your land hermit crabs, or decide that they are not the pet for you, please try and find them a happy home with friends that may care for them as well as their own. Alternatively, you can put them up for adoption at The Crab Street Journal Adoption Center for more information about how to sign up to adopt hermit crabs, or place your own hermit crabs up for adoption.
Recommended products for optimum land hermit crab care
Hermit crabs are advertised as cheap and easy to maintain, which is not necessarily true. To keep your hermit crabs happy and healthy, you will need to provide a lot more than food and water. The following is a list of the essential items your pet hermit crabs will need:
Glass tank with lid:
A glass tank is preferred over plastic tanks which will scratch and do not hold the humidity with the ventilated lids. The glass lid of a sealed glass tank helps keep the temperature and humidity within hermit crab’s habitat with a slight gap for airflow. This will help to cut down on mould and bacteria, which can cause illness and even death among hermit crabs, often detected by a musty or ammonia odor. The bigger the better with a 20 Litre tank the minimum recommended. You need to focus on surface area required for each crab as they like to dig down to moult. Once you place your three bowls/dishes, hiders, driftwood, etc there will be very little space left. It is often best to create second levels and climbing toys to reach them to make the most of your crabitat.
The substrate is what we call the material that lines the bottom of the tank, and creates the ‘beach’ within your crabitat. The most popular substrates being: sanitised beach sand; silica-free play sand; fine river pebbles (such as Australian Pet Supplies or Estes NaturalStone); crushed coral (such as Estes Reef Sand in the US); and other hermit crab-safe substrates. You will need enough of a depth to cover your largest Land Hermit Crab; often three times the height is sufficient for them to bury.
Substrates to avoid include:
o Hermit Crab Sand
o Wood shavings
o Corn shavings
o Cedar shavings
o Substrates for desert animals
o Fir shavings
o Krabooz Zuper Zands
A heat pad made especially for small animals and reptiles. Popular brands are: F.M.R. (US-only), Four Paws(U.S.); PetZone (Australia); ZooMed(UK/Aus and US versions). An U.T.H. is used to keep the hermit crabs warm by gently warming the back wall of the tank, in turn warming the air. You may need a thermostat to regulate the temperature
Thermometer: A thermometer is used to observe the temperature inside the tank. Thermometers come in three main types: the adhesive fish tank style, based on a sticker that changes colour as the temperature at the glass raises; the circular reptile-type thermometers which are based on a coil which contracts or expands; a digital gauge which uses a probe and allows you to measure the temperature at more than one location. Digital is preferred as they are usually more reliable.
A hygrometer is used to observe the humidity inside the tank. Just as with temperature, humidity is very important. If the humidity drops and the air is dry, your land hermit crab will have difficulty in breathing through their modified gills, which act as lungs when moistened and correctly functioning. You should keep humidity between 50-60% for Actual and around 70-80% relative humidity. Damp sea sponges are a great way to increase the humidity in your crabitat, as is a mangrove root that has been misted or some moss.
Use non-metallic, non-porous dishes for your fresh water dish, another for your salt-water pond and one for food. You can use scallop or clam shells for treat dishes. Ceramic bowls and dishes are preferred although resin has been used without problem. For water and salt-water ponds you want dishes deep enough that your hermit crabs can submerge themselves.
Water Ager or Conditioners are very important if the quality of water is not suitable for use with fish in an aquarium. It is important to removes harmful substances from tap water such as chlorine and heavy metals, which can make hermit crabs ill. A water conditioner that removes ammonia is preferred as some remove chloramine but not ammonia itself. Brands include Amquel, AquaCleanse and Prime.
An ocean or salt water pond should be added to your crabitat. It needs to be deep enough for your hermit crab to submerge themselves if they need to, but they should be able to climb in and out of it easily. Do NOT use hermit crab salt. Instead use a salt such as Instant Ocean or other Ocean or Marine salt.
It is very important that you do not use any chemicals which may cause stress to your hermit crabs. Bleach, Ammonia, Chlorine, Acetone and other powerful chemical-based cleaning agents should be avoided. If you use them in your buckets, basins or tubs make sure that you thoroughly rinse and wipe them out before using with hermit crabs.
Where possible, go for natural cleaning agents such as vinegar and water for cleaning the tank; vinegar and salt for deep cleaning; baking soda on a damp sponge for wiping out tubs and containers before rinsing; saltwater for cleaning tank items such as coral, cuttlebone; vanilla essence diluted on a clean rag for a clean scent.
There are a large number of seashells that are suitable for offering to land hermit crabs. Hermit Crabs will choose a shell based on features such as size, weight, size of the opening, and what feels comfy against their abdomen. It is also important that is able to hold their shell water, which hermit crabs use to keep their gills moist.
When selecting shells, it is important to find seashells that are suitable for your hermit crabs. The rule of thumb is to have three shells per hermit crab, including:
one the same size as the one your hermit crab is currently in, both in aperture
(opening) and perhaps in width/length. It may be the same shell species/type or one of the more popular seashells so that you maximize the chance your hermit crab will be happy in their new shell
one slightly smaller than the one your hermit crab is currently in, especially if the shell they are wearing is sliding and they have poor control of it, OR they are obviously tiny within a large shell
one slightly bigger than the one your hermit crab is in, in case they need more room pre/post moult or their own shell is too small for them
any holes or cracks that could cause the hermit crab to dehydrate from drained shell water. Hermit crabs use not only to keep their gills moist so that they can breathe but also to regulate the salts within their shells. You may observe your hermit crabs as they examine each shell with great care, picking it up, turning it over, looking for any reason not to chose it as their new mobile home. It is important that if there are holes in the shell, especially in the whirl where the shell water is kept, that you quickly find some suitable replacement shells.
The most popular seashells are Pheasant, Turban, Babylonia, Tunna/ Tonna, Land Snails, Moon Snails, Fox, Murex, Thais, Nerite and Bonnet.
For each crab, I have a few shells which are just a little bit bigger than their existing shell. When the crab moults (approximately once a year) they need a choice of shells to move into. The change in body size may be small but it will be important that your growing crab needs a choice of shells. They will be very crabby if they do not have bigger shells for big- ger bodies.
If your hermit crab won’t change out of its shell then your crab probably likes its seashell. Even though it might look ugly to you, it might be a good home for the crab. Never try to force your crab into a new seashell as they would rather be ripped in two than to leave their shell. Offer as many seashells as you can, with the size of their cheliped and favoured shell as a guide.
I have found that hermit crabs will often change into seashells much like those they are in if they like the particular ‘fit’ for their abdomen. Just like we have preferences for the type of shoes we wear, hermit crabs like a shell that fits ‘just right’. You might see hermit crabs whip their abdomens in and out of shells while they make up their mind, OR wait around until one of their tank mates moves out of a prized shell, and then there is a seashell vacancy chain (domino effect) whereby you may watch crab B slip into the discarded A, Crab C move into the roomer discarded shell of crab B, and so on.
Measure the horizontal section of the shell opening that your hermit crab is in. Measure the width of your hermit crab’s cheliped (grasping or big claw). If the shell opening is larger than the claw then the shell could be too large for your hermie, so you will need to buy shells roughly the same width aperture as your hermit crab’s cheliped. If possible, try to buy a range of shells from slightly smaller than cheliped width up to slightly larger than the one they are currently in.
Your Land Hermit Crab has been used to a varied diet of foods and needs a mixture of ‘meat and vegetable’ type foods, such as the commercial pellet types (avoid those with Ethoxyquin).
Try to alternate the food types and offer small servings to avoid spoilage. Hermit crabs love fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, nuts, seeds and insects. They need foods rich in amino acid, calcium, carotenoids (especially astaxanthin, cellulose, chitin, cholesterol, copper, fats (Linolenic omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids), glucose, potassium, protein, salts, vitamin a, vitamin Bs (b1, b2, b3, b5, b6, b9 or folate), vitamin C, vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin H (Biotin) and more.
CHECKLIST OF CARE:
Replenish food and water in the crabitat
Remove any foodstuffs from the substrate on a daily basis.
Spend some time looking over the tank and make sure the substrate is clean and dry.
Monitor temperature and humidity levels + adjust accordingly
Pick through the substrate for leftover foodstuffs and give the water dish and food dish a good cleaning.
Give the sides of the tank a good wipe-down with moistened paper towels and check the condition of the substrate.
Rotate the shells within the crabitat.
Wipe out the crabitat with a clean cloth.
Diluted Vinegar is about the only cleaning product I would recommend if you have to use anything. Remember not to use chemicals that may hurt your hermit crabs.
Wash out the bowls, shells and any climbing
RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP
Why have a pet land hermit crab?
Land Hermit Crabs are an interesting pet that when kept healthy and happy will live for a number of years. If you are willing to pay for the essentials: to provide heat, humidity, hide spots, good hygiene, food and suitable water; then you are part the way to keeping healthy hermit crabs.
It is important that you choose the hermit crabs that are suitable for your family and crabitat. If you only have room for a small crabitat in your home, then it may be best that you choose small hermit crabs. Larger hermit crabs need more room to move about within your tank, and will need larger versions of water dishes, food dishes, hideouts and the like. It is also important that if you have small children, that you do not buy jumbo hermit crabs which may be able to break the skin with a nip. Many larger hermit crabs are more wary of being dropped and will latch on if they feel in danger. It may be wise to choose micro, teenie or small hermit crabs for toddlers Even if they do nip, it doesn’t hurt or cause distress.
Your Family Lifestyle
Land Hermit Crabs need fresh food and water every day. If you are not able to be there to provide these essential needs, it is important that you find someone to look after your hermit crabs if you are gone for more than two days. A ZooMed Repti-Reservoir may be helpful in providing water during the day if you work, as the reservoir holds a few days worth of water, and operates as the refillable dog bowls do, just a smaller version.
Your Home Environment
You will need to find a suitable spot within your home for the placement of your land hermit crab’s crabitat. Somewhere out of drafts, and away from any chemicals, insecticides or fumes. Typical locations are in the lounge room or in bedrooms, however, the noise of nocturnal hermit crabs partying the night away has kept more than one hermit crabber awake. If possible, the crabitat should be placed in an area which does not receive heavy traffic, allowing for some privacy and quiet. Remember that perfumes, incense and insect spray can make your hermit crabs ill. Please avoid using them near the tank area wherever possible
You will need to spend at least five minutes at morning and night time refilling water and food dishes; picking through the substrate for any food that has fallen or been dragged out of the food bowl and to check for signs of any problems or illness. View the checklist for more information on what is needed each day, week and month.
The initial set-up is something that you need to see as essential. There should be no cutting corners when it comes to the crabitat (glass with lids are best); heating; gauges (tools to enable you to keep the humidity and temperature at suitable levels); substrate (to line the tank with and enable your crabs to dig), etc. They are all necessary expenses and you will need to set up the crabitat before buying your new pets, or they will not survive very long. A typical cost is over $200 so not cheap.
STARTING OFF ON THE RIGHT PERIPOD (FOOT)
Where Do I Purchase?
It is important that the hermit crabs are in good health when you buy them, as it is often very difficult to undo past damage, especially poor hygiene which leads to bacteria, fungus.
Try to purchase hermit crabs from a pet store which has a range of hermit crab accessories, or at least from a pet shop that will get items in for you on request. If the store keeps their hermit crabs in wood shavings or another unsuitable substrate, then I would either try and recommend a more suitable one (sand, coral sand, play sand, etc) or find another pet store which will provide you with healthy hermit crabs that start off on the right foot. Let the pet store know that you are going elsewhere and they might clean up their act.
Studies have shown that poor conditions and bad hygiene have led to bacteria contamination, which can cause limbs to drop off, mould and fungus, leaving them stressed and in many cases, they will not make it through a moult.
Does each have a place where it can de-stress?
Each crab should be able to retreat within the security of a hiding hut, cave or space where it can feel comfortable and secure within its surroundings. A stressed out crab may leave its shell or have its limbs fall off.
Will each hermit crab have enough space to dig down and moult?
Moulting is responsible for most of the deaths of land hermit crabs in captivity. They need to have adequate moulting conditions or they will not survive. The substrate should be deep enough so that it is at least three times the height of the largest hermit crab at least one section of the tank. You should also make allowances for an isolation unit for each hermit crab, and have it prepared beforehand if possible.
Do I have at least three seashells for each size of hermit crab?
Each hermit crab should have access to at least three seashells of its size and shape, and they should include some of the more popular seashells for land hermit crabs for that size. If it cannot find a seashell to fit, your hermit crab may become very crabby. If you cannot take responsibility to find quality seashells for each hermit crab, then you should stick to hermit crabs of the same size. At least then, they will have a range of shells to choose from.
Larger hermit crabs are often more aggressive than small hermit crabs. It is not a good idea to pick a hermit crab that is overly aggressive, as it may continue its aggressive streak in your tank.
Signs of Illness
If you see a hermit crab with signs of illness in a pet store, it is often not a wise idea to take it home, especially if the signs are of mold, bacteria, mites, fungus or other illness that may spread to your current hermit crabs. Pet Stores are not allowed to sell ill animals. If a hermit crab dies within twenty-four hours, take it back to the pet store and ask them for a replacement.
RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP
It is important that you choose the hermit crabs that are suitable for your family and crabitat. If you only have room for a small crabitat in your home, then it may be best that you choose fairly small hermit crabs.
Larger hermit crabs need more room to move about within your tank, and will need larger versions of water dishes, food dishes, hideouts and the like. It is also important that if you have small children, that you do not buy jumbo hermit crabs which may be able to break the skin with a nip.
Many larger hermit crabs are more wary of being dropped and will latch on if they feel in danger. It may be wise to choose micro, teenie or small hermit crabs for toddlers. Even if they do nip, it doesn’t hurt or cause damage.
Your Family Lifestyle
Land Hermit Crabs need fresh food and water every day. If you are not able to be there to provide these essential needs, it is important that you find someone to look after your hermit crabs if you are gone for more than two days. A ZooMed Repti-Reservoir may be helpful in providing water during the day if you work, as the reservoir holds a few days worth of water, and operates like the refillable dog bowls do, just a smaller version.
Your Home Environment
You will need to find a suitable spot within your home for the placement of your land hermit crab’s crabitat. Somewhere out of drafts, and away from any chemicals, insecticides or fumes. Typical locations are in the lounge room or in bedrooms, however the noise of nocturnal hermit crabs partying the night away has kept more than one hermit crabber awake. If possible, the crabitat should be placed in an area which does not re- ceive a heavy traffic, allowing for some privacy and quiet.
You will need to spend at least five minutes at morning and night time refilling water and food dishes; picking through the substrate for any food that has fallen or been dragged out of the food bowl and to check for signs of any problems or illness.
HOW TO HELP
Please download and print out caresheets and drop them into your local pet stores.
WEBSITES WE LOVE
Land Hermit Crab Owners Society
The Crab Street Journal Magazine