Thursday, May 23, 2019

Hermit Crabs | Upgrade My Tank With Me

     Hermit Crabs.   One of the most complex and fascinating (yet underrated) species in the animal kingdom.  I have been keeping Hermit Crabs for over two years now, and it has been a wonderful experience.  Today's post will be completely dedicated to these little guys, their care, and bringing you along as I upgrade their enclosure!  At the end of this post, there will be a link to my very first YouTube video!  In the video you will be able to watch me give my crabs a new and improved home, with a complete tour of the before and after!

     Humans have been keeping Hermit Crabs for years, making them a fairly popular pet, especially among children.  Unfortunately though, there are so many misconceptions about Hermit Crab care.  The Hermit Crab market is filled with poor information, and even misinformation.  So many Hermit Crabs are kept in unfit conditions by their owners due to this, though it is rarely the owner's fault.  Buyers and owners are fed much false information and advice, that they have no reason not to believe.  It doesn't cross ones mind to question to word of a breeder, seller, or professional, and it shouldn't have to.  Though it just isn't that easy in the case of Hermit Crabs.  

     On the bright side, many individuals and Hermit Crab keepers like myself are stepping out to spread to word on proper Hermit Crab care!  There are pages, groups, and articles popping up everywhere, lending a helping hand to Hermit Crab owners!  With this post, I am going to pitch in.  All of the information I am going to share are my opinions that have come from research, other Hermit Crab keepers, and my personal experience in Hermit Crab keeping!  I hope you are able to find inspiration to give your crabs a great life, or find out if they are the pet for you!

     First, lets talk about Hermit Crabs themselves!  There are both land and marine Hermit Crabs, and in this post we will be discussing land Hermit Crabs.  Hermit Crabs aren't native to just one place, and different types of Hermit Crabs can be found in many coastal areas all over the world!  There are about 500 different types of Hermit Crabs, so I obviously can't name them all.  Though the ones that are commonly kept as pets are The Australian Hermit Crab, Capvie/Cav, Ecuadorian Hermit Crab, Indonesian Hermit Crab, Purple Pincher, Ruggie, Strawberry, and Viola.  As overwhelming as it may seem, it isn't difficult to identify the species of your Hermit Crabs, as all of these species carry different physical features.  Regardless of the species of the crab, the general care remains the same, so don't stress! 

     Now, lets talk about the size of a Hermit Crab enclosure.  There is so much misinformation about how much space Hermit Crabs need, there are even tanks/enclosures marketed specifically for Hermit Crabs, that are unfit for them to live in! As far as size goes, I believe a good rule of thumb is 10 gallons per crab after 29 gallons.  I know 29 gallons seems huge for minimum, but it is a very healthy size for the crabs.  I'm sure this comes as a shock to some, as you were sent home with your crab in a mesh cage or plastic box, but this space is crucial for crabs to flourish.  Also keep in mind that a glass aquarium/terrarium is the best option for them, opposed to mesh.  I will talk on why in a bit. As you will see in the video, my previous tank was a 20 gallon long.  In my opinion, this size was suitable for my two crabs for a period of time, before I was able to upgrade.  Though I do not recommend this size long term, and encourage you to upgrade to a 29 gallon as soon as it is possible for you.  The height the 29 gallon provides is extremely beneficial for the crabs, as they need space to climb. This size tank is ideal for 2/3 Hermit Crabs.  I would not recommend anymore in this space.  And remember, never house a single Hermit Crab!  Hermit Crabs must be in a pair or group.

     Next, substrate!  Substrate is the matter put in the base of the tank to create the floor.  Like dirt, sand, rocks, etc.  What I believe is the ideal for substrate is a mix of two things.  These things are sand, and EcoEarth.  EcoEarth is a coconut fiber substrate that you can find online, or at most pet stores.  When purchasing sand, I highly recommend skipping the calcium sand.  Even though it is marketed to Hermit Crabs and sold in pet stores, it is not safe for them.  When calcium sand comes into contact with water, it clumps up, and hardens.  This phenomenon can occur inside a Hermit Crab's shell, leading to injury.  A great alternative to calcium sand is play sand.  Yes, play sand, the kind you would fill a children's sandbox with.  As odd as it sounds, this is the perfect sand for Hermit Crabs.  It is safe, a good consistency, no clumping, and you can get large bags for a low price.  A good ratio for mixing the two substrate is 1 cup of EcoEarth for every 5 cups of sand.  Or, one brick of EcoEarth for every bag of sand.  There are multiple benefits to mixing these two, opposed to just using one or the other.  It creates a more comfortable surface for the crab's feet, it holds tunnels, and gives a good place for molting.  The substrate also must be six inches deep (at least in the majority of the tank), which may seem like a lot, but it is necessary!  Hermit Crabs need this depth for digging and molting.

     Another important necessity is decor, and accessories.  For Hermit Crabs, decor isn't just decor.  Hermit Crabs love to adventure, and climb.  It is important to provide your crabs with various places to climb, play, and exercise.  A great option for this is to use various types of wood in your tank, to create lots of areas for the crabs to explore! (You can see how I have done this in the video!)  You can also purchase artificial greenery, ladders, ropes, and much more.  Another important thing to have is a few places for your crabs to hide.  My crabs are very appreciative of their places of shelter, so I recommend having a couple hide houses in your tank.   

     In addition to these basics, we also need to talk about the conditions that Hermit Crabs needs to flourish.  Hermit Crabs come from the tropics, so it is our job as keepers to recreate a tropical environment!  The two keys to achieving this, are heat and humidity.  These two things are vital to Hermit Crab health, but are rather easy to achieve.  For heating your tank, I recommend a heat mat, and/or heat lamp.  If you go with the route of a heat mat, I recommend placing the mat on the back wall of the tank, above the substrate.  I recommend this over placing the mat on the bottom of the tank, because it will better heat the tank and poses less of a hazard.  I also prompt you to place it to one side of the tank, so the tank can maintain a warmer and cooler side.  This way the crabs will be able to move about to a comfortable temperature when they please.  If you decide to do a heat lamp, I recommend placing it to one side as well.  There are rare occasions where it is safe to do both, but that is what I have had to do to keep the temperature at a healthy 80 degrees on the warm side.  My crabs really like this set up, as they can move as close to or as far from the heat lamp as they want.  It  is important to do your research on your heat pads and lamps, to assure you have the right fit for your set up.  Look into wattage, and find which heat mat is recommended for your tank size.  This research is especially important if you use both a heat mat and lamp, as you want to make sure you are not burning or overheating your crabs!  The ideal temperature for a hermit crab enclosure is about 72 - 80 degrees.   As far as humidity goes, it's rather simple!  Hermit Crabs breathe through modified gills, so having high humidity in their enclosure is crucial.  A humidity content 80% or over is needed for them to breathe properly.  This can be achieved by simply spraying down the tank with lukewarm water as needed.  How often you need to do this will vary on your set up, and tank type.  This is the main reason why I recommend a glass tank, as it holds in the humidity.  If your tank lid is sealed or not will also play a part in how often you will have to add moisture.  I recommend having temperature and humidity gauges in your enclosure, so you can keep an eye on things.

     Next, let's address diet.  Hermit Crabs have a very complex diet, and are not hard to feed.  A general idea of what to feed Hermit Crabs, is what your doctor recommends you to eat.  Hermit Crabs are omnivores, so their menu is nearly endless.  Fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, and so much more are great options for your crabs.  Some of my crab's favorite foods are carrots, shrimp, pineapple, greens, and eggshell!  Hermit Crabs also need constant access to both fresh and salt water.  It is also important to have these in pools or deep bowls.  You want each water access to be deep enough for your largest crab to submerge in.  You can see the in ground pools I used in the video (I purchased them at Petco.)  I also recommend to change out the water every couple days, as the crabs will track substrate into it. (As you can see they decided to do just before filming.) 

     Now it's time to talk about molting.  Hermit Crabs will molt on average every 18 months, but don't be alarmed if it is more or less frequent.  When a Hermit Crab molts, it sheds it's outer shell of it's body, and grows a new one.  They almost always shed in one main piece, leaving behind an exoskeleton.  This exoskeleton resembles a dead crab, so if you see what seems to be a dead crab, do not fret!  More likely than not, it is just your crab's old exoskeleton.  You can tell, by checking if it is hollow.  If you do find the exoskeleton, leave it be!  Most crabs will eat it after their molt is over.  Molting is different for every crab, as is the timeline.  Do not fear if your crab has been down to molt for a long time.  Some molts take up to eight weeks!  This is normal, and it is best to just leave it be.  Never dig up a molting crab, as this can seriously hurt it.  Your crab knows what it's doing, and will come back up when it's ready!

     Just as important, are shells.  Hermit Crabs wear shells as a form of protection.  Hermit Crabs have abdomens that are unlike the rest of their bodies.  The part of their bodies that you see resembles a regular crustacean, but their abdomens (which they keep inside their shell) resembles that of a shrimp.  It has no outer shell like the rest of their bodies, and is much more sensitive.  Having a shell is a matter of life or death for Hermit Crabs, and making sure they have the right one is crucial.  There are different sizes of Hermit Crabs, so you must have different sizes of shells!  You can measure the opening of the shell size your crab wears, to get an idea of which ones to have.  Then, you will also want to have a few shells of a bigger size for your crab's growth.  Do this for each of your crabs, and keep these shells in the tank.  When it is time for your crab to switch shells, it will find the perfect one out of the group on its own.  I also must say that I encourage you to rid of all painted shells.  Most Hermit Crabs come in painted shells, and are sold with painted shells.  Though these can be harmful to crabs, as they can ingest the paint as it chips, and it is overall unpleasant for them to wear.  Natural shells are the best way to go, and your crab will happily change into a natural shell from a painted one when given the chance.  

     Now, handling your Hermit Crabs.  Contrary to popular belief, Hermit Crabs are not social creatures.  They are really only social among themselves.  They see you as a predator, and can be very intimidated by you.  Though things will get better with time, and they won't run every time you stick your hand in the tank, I don't recommend handling your crabs unless you absolutely have to.  Handling your crab and removing it from its environment can be extremely stressful for them, leading into a decline of health.  Hermit Crabs are a pet to watch, not to play with.  Though they can be so enjoyable to watch as you give them the means to flourish.  They have their own personalities, and you can discover your crab's personalities by observation!  

     Lastly, something I am tired of hearing, is the lifespan of Hermit Crabs.  I often hear that a typical lifespan for a Hermit Crab is one year, and truthfully, that's rubbish.  I believe that this misconception came to be due to the common poor Hermit Crab conditions kept by breeders, and sellers.  The premature deaths of Hermit Crabs have become normalized, and I want to do everything in my power to stop that.  Most people don't know that in the wild, Hermit Crabs can live to be 30 years old!  When kept in proper conditions, it is possible for captive crabs to still live up to 20 years.  Don't blame yourself if this does not happen though, as your crabs have likely had a rough life before they came into your possession.  Almost all Hermit Crabs are wild caught.  They are taken from their homes, and taken by plane and/or truck to get to a facility where they are distributed.  There conditions are shameful, and the crabs are lucky if they don't get transported to a souvenir shop.  This is why I believe it is so important to take good care of Hermit Crabs.  They gave gone through so much, against their will.  To help this cause, I prompt you to not purchase Hermit Crabs from pet stores or souvenir shops.  Instead, rescue or adopt your Hermit Crabs!  You can find many listings online across various platforms, and even on the Facebook Marketplace. 

     I hope this post has helped you learn and has given you some inspiration!  Hermit Crabs can be great pets if taken care of correctly.  They require more work than lead on, but still are a great beginner pet!  I adore my Hermie and Fluffy, and have been so blessed to be able to pass the knowledge that I have learned onto others!  If you have any further questions, feel free to leave a comment!  Thank you for reading and I hope you'll watch my video in the link below!

With love, Jennie