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What's New with Hermit Crabs

Current Info about These 'Crustacean Cuties' For Pet Retailers


What's New with Hermit Crabs

With proper care, hermit crabs can live long, happy lives.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In the summer of 2011, I wrote a couple of popular articles about hermit crabs: About Hermit Crabs and Ocean City, N.J., The Hermit Crab Capital, about how these crustacean cuties help to promote the popular resort town.

In addition to having had lots of first-hand experience with owning these pets during many youthful summers spent at the seashore (despite my best heartfelt efforts, my crab parenting skills left a lot to be desired), I conducted a lot of research and personally spoke with those who deal with these pets in composing my article about hermit crabs.

Then in September 2012, I was contacted by a lady named Melodie Diaz, who is a member of the Hermit Crab Association, which is dedicated to educating the public about the proper care of these quixotic exotic pets, and eradicating the general perception that these are “throwaway pets.”

She wrote: "You touched on some very important subjects, like not using the plastic carriers as homes, not using gravel as substrate, and not using painted shells. I would like to make a few suggestions to update your article so it is more current. We love our crabbies!"

Here is what she and her fellow crab enthusiasts would like retailers to know, so that they may better educate their crab parent clients about their proper care and habitat needs.

Proper Climate for Hermit Crabs

The importance of an atmosphere with the proper humidity cannot be overemphasized, Melodie pointed out.

"They need about 75/75 (temperature and percentage of humidity), and this should be especially emphasized as they cannot breathe in dry environments," she said. "And hermit crabs don’t 'catch the sniffles' at low temps; they will die. This is a big difference."

The Substrate Debate

In researching my previous article, many crab experts recommended sand, coconut fiber (Eco Earth is very popular) or crushed coral. Baking the sand prior to use is also generally recommended. But Melodie took exception to some of these recommendations.

"Crushed coral should not be an option," she said. "And sand does not have to be rinsed and baked; most crabbies on HCA just put it straight in. You say that it is cheaper than the hermit crab sand, and it is. But the hermit crab sand sold in pet stores is also very unsafe, because it sticks and hardens to the crabs when it is wet. Most crabbers use a sand to Eco Earth ratio of 5 to 1, or all sand."

She added that properly moistening the substrate is also very important.

"It should be emphasized that sand (play sand, used in kids' sandboxes) or Eco Earth should always be moistened to sand castle consistency; no wetter, no drier. This is the most important thing if they are to survive their molts, and this is where most people's crabs die."

Melodie further emphasized that the depth of the substrate should be more than enough for the crabs to burrow in.

"There should be substrate at least three times the size of your biggest crab. They need deep substrate to molt."

And with the proper substrate, once monthly deep cleans and total removal are not needed.

"A good sand and/or EE substrate mix can stay in there for years. Just spot cleaning for dropped and dragged food and mold as needed. Just as you never do 100 percent changes to a fish tank, just 20 percent changes every week or two, you don’t want to mess up the balance."

A Note About Sponges

For a long time, the common practice was to place sea sponges in the hermit crabs' tank to help mitigate humidity. But Melodie explained that many crab experts are now opposed to this practice.

"It has now come about now that these sponges are not a good idea for beginners as they need to be sterilized every one or two days to prevent deadly bacteria, and most beginners are not going to take the time to do this. A better way to get humidity control is with organic sphagnum moss, sold in the orchid section of home improvement stores, or reptile moss, kept moist."

About Proper Habitat Lids and Salt Water

"They should be solid lids (glass or acrylic), or mesh with saran wrap to hold in humidity," Melodie said. "They can be slightly cracked open to allow some ventilation. But if this isn't clarified, people will just get plain old mesh lids."

Plus, hermit crabs don't need salt water for a "crabby spa experience;" they need it to survive.

And Melodie emphasized that this should not be table salt or sea salt. "Marine salt is needed, and both the sea salt bowl and the fresh water bowl should be de-chlorinated with a fish de-chlorinator."

Hermit Crab Care is Constantly Evolving

As this ardent hermit crab lover pointed out: "Crabbers are constantly researching and coming up with healthier solutions. And these are some important topics to emphasize. Please tell your readers to check out the updated Hermit Crab Association care sheets if they have any questions."

I would like to thank Melodie and her crabbie loving comrades for taking the time to provide this updated info. Despite the misconception that these creatures are "disposable," they are living beings that deserve the same proper care and love as any other pets.
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