Everything you need to know to get started keeping land tree hermit crabs. Advise on houseing and feeding hermit crabs to keep them healthy for a life time.
If you have been to a beachfront town, pet store or mall recently, you have probably seen hermit crabs for sale. Land tree hermit crabs are on the way to becoming a popular pet, more often than not to the untimely demise of the animals. Hermit crabs can be entertaining and enjoyable pets. They require little space and are quite making them a good choice for apartments and dorm rooms. There are certain requirements to consider before bringing a hermit crab home, however once these needs have been met hermit crabs can be wonderful and fairly easy pets for years to come.
Things to Consider
There are some important things to ponder when deciding if hermit crabs are the right pet for a given situation. Hermit crabs are very sociable creatures and need to be in groups of two or more crabs of roughly the same size at all times. In the wild, these animals have been in colonies of 100 or more, socialization is very important to their well-being. Hermit crabs have a relatively long life span, in captivity they have lived upwards of 30 years. The average lifespan of a land hermit crab in captivity unfortunately is normally much less than that. They can also grow quit large as they never really stop growing, it can be hard to find new shells for a large hermit crab to move into. Hermit crabs come from the wild and do not breed in captivity; some of them do not lose this wild nature and prefer to stay hidden at all times. Hermit crabs are nocturnal and may not be very active during the day, and usually will not seek attention from a caregiver.
If the purchase of a hermit crab is still an option, it is important to consider their very specific need requirements. Meeting the needs of hermit crabs can take some time to achieve; however once they are, they are easy to maintain.
Temperature and Humidity
Hermit crabs come from tropical and semi-tropical parts of the world; they need to have the humidity inside the crabitat kept at 70-75% at all times. This is important because hermit crabs have modified gills that they breathe through, not lungs. If the humidity levels are too low, the gills will dry out and become stiff and the crab will essentially suffocate. If the humidity rises above 75% for too long, fungus can grow on the gills and inside the tank causing disease and death.
The temperature inside the enclosure needs to be 75-80 degrees at all times. Hermit crabs can go into hibernation like state if allowed to become too cold for too long, sometimes they do not recover from this. If the crabitat remains at temperatures higher than 80 degrees for too long, the hermit crabs could over heat and die.
The easiest way to maintain these levels inside a home is to use a solid plastic lid to keep moisture and heat inside the cage. If the levels start to rise, open the lid enough to stabilize the crabitat to the desired humidity and temperature levels. The use of an under the tank heater (UTH) will help keep the bedding at the correct temperature for any diggers that may live there. The use of humidity and temperature gauges will make this aspect of crab keeping easier to maintain
Proper Housing Selections
Proper housing selection will help keep a crabitat at just the right humidity and temperature levels needed for healthy crabs. The best choice is an aquarium; the size depends on the number on hermit crabs that will be in it. A good size for a beginning crabber is a 10-gallon aquarium with a solid plastic top, or at least a plastic top over a screen top.
After the tank and the correct top are in place, it is now time to set up the new crabitat. The first thing that is needed is bedding for the crabs. Most crabs like to dig and bury themselves at least some of the time, some like to do it all of the time. The best bedding for this is play sand, which is at almost any home improvement store. The use of play sand will allow the crabs the freedom to bury themselves without the tunnel collapsing in on them. Other choices for bedding are gravel (the kind used for fish tanks) and fibrous bedding (forest bedding); any of these make a great ground level for hermit crabs. Whichever one is used, it needs to be at a depth that is at least as deep as the largest crab is tall, and this will ensure that they can burrow.
There are certain types of bedding that are available in pet stores that are never used for hermit crabs. Pine and Cedar shavings are not be used, as they will cause humidity levels to be very hard to maintain. They may also carry parasites that can harm or kill the hermit crabs living there.
Feeding and nutritional requirements
There are some commercial foods available for hermit crabs, although none is complete according to many seasoned crabbers. Hermit crabs need to be fed certain types of supplements in addition to the commercial foods. Crabs need more protein than is provided in those foods, they need to feed on shrimp, tubifex worms, and algae wafers (all in the fish supplies section). They can also be fed cooked, unseasoned meat to help meet their protein requirements. Just do not leave it in the cage longer than a couple of days. Hermit crabs also require calcium for good exoskeleton growth. Good sources of calcium are clean, dry eggshell pieces, or cuttlebone (for birds). It is also a good idea to feed the hermit crabs fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. In the wild, the crabs are scavengers and eat a variety of foods to keep healthy.
Water is another key component to healthy and happy crabs. Hermit crabs require fresh water at all time; they also need saltwater provided to them. Some species of hermit crabs need saltwater for survival, the other species like to soak in it occasionally. Since most of the places selling hermit crabs will not know what species they are dealing with, it is highly recommended saltwater be offered constantly along with the fresh water. When mixing the saltwater, use a salt made for marine aquarium fish. Do not use table salt it is poisonous to the crabs. The easiest way to offer the two types of water is in plastic or glass dishes, deep enough for the crabs to submerse themselves, shallow enough to get out without help. Placing a piece of natural sponge in the water will help smaller crabs get out while still offering enough water for larger crabs to soak in.
One of the most anxiety causing issues among crabbers is molting. Crabs grow by molting their exoskeleton and growing a new one. The exoskeleton is made of the same type of material as fingernails; it is tough and used to protect the crab in addition to the shell. While a crab is molting it is very vulnerable to other crabs in the cage who might decide to become cannibalistic and have the molter for a snack. The exoskeleton is very high in nutrients and therefore desirable to other crabs. Since the molter cannot fight off any danger, they need protection. It wise that a smaller version of the main tank be set up and used as an isolation cage for molting crabs, one per cage. If an isolation container is not available, one can be fashioned from a two-liter pop bottle. With the bottom cut off a rinsed two-liter bottle, push it over where the crab that wants to molt is, be sure to push it all the way down to the floor of the cage. By doing this, the molting crab is protected. Be sure to provide the molter with all necessary food and water.
Some signs that a crab is ready to molt include, but are not limited to:
- increased appetite
- increased water consumption
- increased digging
Although these are good signs that the crab should be isolated from its tank mates, they are not always accurate. Crabs are individuals; they will differ in their preferences. Some crabs will molt right on the surface of the cage, however, most prefer to dig into the sand. Some crabs will molt almost overnight, while others seem to take months to finish. The most important thing to remember is do not disturb a crab that is in the process of molting, this is a very stressful time and bothering them now could cause death.
When a crab finishes molting, it will come out of its hiding place. The crab may be a noticeably brighter color and will have black toenail tips on its feet. The newly molted crab should stay in isolation until it is eating and acting normally. When it is ready for reintroduction to its tank mates, it will need bathing. Bathing a hermit crab is an easy procedure; place enough room temperature water in a plastic container to cover the largest crab. Let them walk around for a couple of minutes, too long and they will drown. Bathing the new molted crab with the others will ensure that they smell the same to each other, making the molter less likely to be a victim of hungry crabs.
The Fun Stuff
Finally, the essential aspects of keeping crabs have been met. It is now time for the fun stuff, decorating the cage. One thing to consider when picking out decorations for hermit crabs is they like to climb; they are called tree land hermit crabs for a reason. Do not put decorations too close to the top of the crabitat unless it is secure because crabs are great escape artists.
A good rule to follow is “if it can go in a fish tank, it can go in a hermit crab home.” Be sure to provide plenty of hiding spots for the crabs; these are available commercially or can be crafted from home. Have fun while setting up the crabitat, the more there is for the crabs to do, the more enjoyment they will be able to provide. It can be fun to add a second level to your crabitat, leave it a few inches from the top so the crabs do not go for an adventure by themselves. Another idea for the cage is to supply the crabs with climbing equipment. A good start is a plastic basket, like strawberries come in, turned upside down. This will give the crabs something to figure out as they maneuver over and under it.
Hermit crabs like to escape and enjoy an occasional romp outside of their enclosure. Perhaps they could stroll across the kitchen floor or table, protected of course. It is a good idea to mist your crabs with water if they are going to be out of the humidity for any length of time, this will help prevent the modified gills from becoming too dry.
Welcome to the world of hermit crabs, they are facinating little creatures. Perhaps the hardest part to owning them is not buying a new addition at every pet store, as they have a tendency to become addictive. Take care of them, they will provide you with years of enjoyment in return.
As hermit crabs continue to molt, they will grow larger, therefore, they will need new and larger shells. Shells are available from many sources from craft stores to online and specialty pet stores. Different crabs prefer different types of shells. Some will change shells as people change clothes, other crabs will find one shell that they like and be very reluctant to let it go even when it becomes too small.
It is recommended to stay away from painted and decorated shells as these can cause sickness in the crabs. Most crabs prefer a natural shell and will appreciate a large selection. A common reason for crab fights is over shells, the only thing a crabber can do is to ensure that there are enough shells of the appropriate sizes in the tank for the crabs to select which they would prefer. Never try to take a crab out of its shell, it will allow itself literally to be torn apart before being taken out. The shell is the crabs’ only real means of protection and needs to be treated as such. In the wild, without the shell the crab will be eaten, remember these crabs all come from the wild.