Discover the Best Habitat for Hermit Crabs to Thrive

Written by Joanne Paiva
Updated: December 4, 2023
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Hermit crabs, up to two, will thrive in at least a 10-gallon tank protected from drafts and direct sunlight. Maintain 70-90 percent humidity by daily misting using dechlorinated water. Keep the tank’s temperature between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide a few inches of substrate deep enough for them to dig and molt. Give them two shallow non-metal water dishes, one freshwater, one marine saltwater, and a natural sponge to climb.

Facts About Hermit Crabs

Largest Hermit Crabs - Dwarf Hermit Crab

Hermit crabs do not have a shell but live in shells from other animals.

©Chase Clausen/Shutterstock.com

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Hermit crabs make interesting and unusual pets. These land crabs hide their exoskeletons within the shells of other creatures, usually sea snails. New hermit crab owners often make the mistake of not getting a tank big enough for them to live in. With the addition of their accessories, they still need space to run around. A tank around 2 feet in length and a foot wide is usually best with a depth to accommodate enough substrate material for them to burrow. Discover the best habitat for hermit crabs to thrive while designing an interesting space for them to live in.

In their natural environment, they live on land close to the shoreline with ocean access. There are over 800 species of hermit crabs most are native to Australia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. In addition, they reside along the Atlantic coast of the United States.

They are very social and like to live in groups, but make sure they are all getting along. Monitor them for fighting and separate them when they are. Adding live plants in their tanks offers them hiding places, another food source, and improves the air quality. Choose plants with vertical growth that like humidity and warmth, and are resilient such as soilless air plants, moss, spider plants, and sprouts which they can also snack on.

It can take up to 5 years for them to reach their full-grown size of about 2-6 inches in length and some live up to 10 years. The most common types of hermit crab are the Caribbean Crab (Coenobita clypeatus) which grows up to 6 inches and the Ecuadorian Crab (Coenobita compressus) which is the smallest at under an inch in length.

Discover the Best Habitat for Hermit Crabs to Thrive

Hermit crabs thrive in a tank with enough room for them to grow, enough substrate for them to tunnel, and enough moisture. Change the substrate every 2-6 months which is made from a mixture of silica play sand and coconut fiber. They also need an under-tank heater, thermometers to monitor the temperature, and a humidity gauge. Make sure to provide enough decorations in their tank for them to climb on and provide 2 shallow bowls of water, one with dechlorinated fresh water and the other filled with saltwater prepared using marina aquarium salt.

Hermit crabs like to climb, including objects such as branches, pieces of coral, shells, artificial plants, or caves. Use your imagination to think of ways to decorate their tanks to make it fun for them. Add rocks, but keep in mind their size as they take up space. Use smooth ones that are easy to keep clean, small river rocks are a great choice. Don’t use rocks from craft stores or those painted or coated with anything that might harm them.

Keep your hermit crab healthy by ensuring they have a well-maintained tank. Always keep their tank clean. Daily spot-clean them to remove feces and discarded food. Once a week empty the tank and clean it, all decorations, and dishes with reptile habitat cleaner or three percent bleach solution. Thoroughly rinse all traces of bleach and cleaning solution before returning the tank’s contents and the hermit crabs to their environment.

How Do You Take Care of a Hermit Crab?

Animals In North America Hibernate

Carrots and untreated marigold petals keep the reddish-orange shade of its exoskeleton.

©iStock.com/MATTHIASRABBIONE

A well-balanced diet includes high-quality hermit crab food. Supplement this with vegetables including romaine lettuce, kale, carrots, and spinach. Carrots and untreated marigold petals give their exoskeleton its reddish-orange shade. They enjoy fruits such as papaya, coconut, and mango in small amounts. Treats include fish flakes, brine shrimp, seaweed, and nuts. Calcium supplements like crushed cuttlebone help to keep their exoskeleton hard.

Please place them in their saltwater dish daily and let them leave at will. Provide new shells after they have molted and outgrown their current ones. They bury the one they don’t want to use. Pick them up by the back of their shell over a soft surface when handling them in case they drop to prevent injury.

They aren’t aggressive but can pinch and have a strong claw which they will use when they are hungry or startled. Be careful not to drop them if they do pinch as they could be badly hurt or killed. Small children should be kept away from handling them.

It can take days to weeks for hermit crabs to molt depending on their size. Small hermit crabs between 1-1.5 inches take about 2-3 weeks and molt every 1-3 months. Medium-sized hermit crabs between 1.5-2 inches take 3-6 weeks and molt every 2-5 months. Large hermit crabs between 2-2.4 inches take 4-8 weeks and molt every 4-10 months.

Take action if you notice lethargy, abandonment of their shell, excessive molting, loss of appetite, loss of claws or limbs, or a bad odor or discharge from their shell. Loss of limbs could be caused by stress from an improperly maintained tank or by fighting with another hermit crab.

Where Do Hermit Crab Shells Come From?

Hermit crab shells are found objects, they are not born with them. In the wild, they will find a shell that fits and it becomes their home. Their name derives from the practice of living in a borrowed shell. Without a shell, their exoskeletons will become dry and they will grow lethargic and die. In the wild, they find shells that have been vacated by other hermit crabs or sea snails. They change their shells many times in their lifetime and will try on their new shell and see if it fits. If not, they will continue to look. Place enough shells in their tank for their selection, especially if there is more than one hermit crab in residence. Purchase shells online or from pet and craft stores.

Never force hermit crabs out of their shells. They opt to leave one to go to a larger one when they grow and molt. When handling them remember all invertebrates potentially carry diseases such as salmonella. Always wash your hands before and after handling them to prevent the spread of disease. They are not recommended as pets for those who are pregnant, children under 5 years old, seniors, or those with weakened immune systems.

In Conclusion

Creating a hermit crab habitat is an easy and fun hobby for children as well as adults. They don’t require much care and they are interesting creatures to watch as they are social and like to climb and dig in the substrate. Discover the best habitat for hermit crabs to thrive, which results in their long and happy lives.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Creative writing has always been a passion of mine. When I’m not writing or reading, I can be found outdoors exploring, birdwatching, and hiking.

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