Exotic Pets Profile: Hermit Crabs

A Misunderstood Animal

Hermit Crab
••• Miss Crustacean. Photo courtesy of DBKphoto

Hermit crabs are among the coolest exotic pets around. They also are rather misunderstood.

Here is important info about these cuddly crustaceans for retailers.

Hermit Crabs, a Staple of Summer

Hermit crabs are popular pets in the summer, when seemingly every boardwalk souvenir shop in resort towns in New Jersey and Delaware carry these quixotic critters for sale.

They are so popular in Ocean City, N.J., that the town even hosts a Miss Crustacean Beauty Pageant!

Each August, bevies of pulchritudinous decapods vie for the coveted Cucumber Rind Cup.

Hermit crabs do make great pets. In fact, healthy hermit crabs are quite active, playful and lively.

Here are some fun and useful tips about these cool exotic pets.

Hermit Crabs are Party Animals!

Despite the name, hermit crabs are actually quite social and enjoy the company of other hermit crabs. So retailers are advised to encourage their customers to purchase at least two of these critters, or they will get lonely.

Lest I forgot, they also love toys. The Hermit Crab Association recommends the types sold at the Hermit Crab Patch.

Now here are some tips about their care, which is constantly evolving.

Proper Hermit Crab Housing ​

The boardwalk shops that sell hermit crabs also sell houses for them, most notably little clear acrylic aquariums with colorful ventilated lids and round wire cages. While these are very cute, these should not be used for anything other than transporting the critters home because these are not appropriate long-term domiciles for hermit crabs.

Hermit crabs require 10-gallon or larger aquarium tanks with sides high enough to keep them from escaping, and lids that provide adequate ventilation.

Hermit Crabs Like It Hot

It's very important to note that these exotic pets love warmth and high humidity. The temperature in their tanks should be between 72 and 80 degrees.

Any lower, and they will catch the sniffles; any hotter and they can fry! They should also not be kept in direct sunlight. The tank should be outfitted with a thermometer and hygrometer to monitor these conditions.

An excellent way to provide proper humidity is by placing a couple of sea sponges that have been soaked in water in bowls around the bottom of the tank.


Once again, the starter kits found in boardwalk shops usually contain colorful gravel substrate. This is also a no-no. The same goes for wood shavings.

The proper substrate for hermit crabs is either coconut fiber, crushed coral or sand.

Sand can be quite a hassle, because it should be rinsed, then placed in a shallow pan and baked in a 300-degree oven for a few minutes to sterilize it.

So retailers should carry coconut fiber, to make things easier for hermit crab parents. One good brand is Eco Earth. Just make sure that there's enough so that the hermit crabs are able to dig and burrow in it.

Note: The hermit crab's tanks, food and water dishes and toys should be cleaned regularly. Dishes should be cleaned once every few days, and tanks should be cleaned about once a month.

To do this, place the crabs in a safe place from which they can't escape.

This is where the little domiciles folks use to transport them home would come in handy, so advise customers to save these for this purpose. Then tell customers to clean the tanks with white vinegar and water, thoroughly dry the tanks then follow with fresh substrate.

Fine Dining for Hermit Crabs

As I have said repeatedly, pets need proper hydration. Hermit crabs are no exception; fresh water and proper access is numero uno on the list for hermit crabs, as well.

Be sure that hermit crabs have fresh water at all times, in bowls that they can easily crawl in and out of. Otherwise, they might drown.

(One should also provide hermit crabs with a separate shallow bowl of salt water so that they can bathe and have a crabby spa experience.)

That said, there are commercial diets available for hermit crabs.

They also enjoy people foods that can be given as treats such as:

  • Bread and crackers
  • Carotene-rich foods such as carrots
  • Fruits such as apples, bananas and coconut
  • Veggies such as shredded spinach

Note that fruits and veggies should be diced for easier ingestion.

Hermit crabs also require tannin, a compound found in plant extracts including tea and grape leaves. Leaf litter and tree bark are good sources of this, provided that they are thoroughly rinsed.

As for commercial foods, retailers should check the ingredients to ensure that the brands they choose to sell do not contain copper sulfate and ethoxyquin, ingredients found in pesticides.

Animal Rights Applies to Hermit Crabs, Too

Unfortunately, many people regard hermit crabs as "disposable pets," especially vacationers who purchase these as living souvenirs. Sadly, many folks will simply let the critters loose on beaches before returning home. However, the crabs cannot survive because they are not indigenous to the area; one Ocean City merchant said that her shop gets them from the Caribbean. So they die.

That's why it's so very important for pet retailers to educate their customers about the importance of making a commitment to these pets once they purchase them.

"We found out that people don’t know how to take care of hermit crabs," said Mark Soifer, public relations director for Ocean City, N.J., who came up with the idea for the Miss Crustacean Pageant. "So we give people information about how to take care of them. We also tell people that if they’re not going to keep them then give them to us and we’ll find them homes."

Remember, these are living beings. And with proper care, they can survive, thrive and provide their human families with a great deal of enjoyment for many years.

Hermit Crab Resources

An excellent source of hermit crab information can be found on the Website: Hermit Crabs Care. The site, which was created by Sarah and Diane Winter to educate the public about the proper care and breeding of pet hermit crabs, also offers a free hermit crab mini-course.

The previously mentioned Hermit Crab Association, which is dedicated to the care of hermit crabs worldwide, is another great resource.

I'd also like to offer a special thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which publishes excellent weekly articles about various pets and their care.