Hermit Crabs are a lot of kids very first pets, and they make great ones, too, when properly cared for. Most Hermit Crab's are about 2 inches when first purchased, and with proper care, and a long life span they can reach up to 6 inches, and sometimes a bit more. When cared for properly, hermit crabs can live up to 25 years. Hermit Crabs are primarily nocturnal.
Housing, Substrate, and Decoration
Despite their names, Hermit Crabs like to live in groups. The minimum should be three crabs. A standard 10-gallon aquarium/terrarium is a great home for three Hermit Crabs, until they start to reach their bigger sizes. If you want to have more than three crabs, get a bigger aquarium/terrarium. When deciding on a home for your crabs think about all the things you'd like to include, and their necessities, too. The enclosure will need to be able to fit their food and water dishes, climbing toys, shells, and the pet itself, plus, still have free space to roam around.
Next thing to consider is the substrate for your Hermit Crab. Sand and coconut fiber are the best substrates for Hermit Crabs. When purchasing your sand it is okay to buy sand from a home improvement store, but you must make sure that it contains absolutely no chemicals. If the sand is discolored, or has an oily smell or texture, do NOT use it. If you're worried about getting contaminated sand you can purchase reptile, or aquarium sand. Also, if you choose to use coconut fiber, ensure that it completely organic (this means all-natural and entirely chemical free), most pet stores sell good brands of this. A lot of people choose to use a mixture of these two substrates, as when combined they hold moisture well and make for good burrowing. Your substrate should be between 2-4ö deep.
You should change your Hermit Crab's substrate about every 2-3 months, and sooner than that if you notice any molds or fowl smells, or happen to get a bug infestation. You cannot use any pesticides to kill bugs in your Hermit Crab's enclosure, as it will kill your pets.
Once a week use either a fish net, or a brand new kitchen strainer (the small, mesh, metal kind works best) to sift through all the sand and remove hermit Crab waste, buried food, and whatever else may be in the substrate.
Hermit Crabs love to have well decorated, and fun enclosures. Remember, this is your Hermit Crab's home, place to sleep, place to exercise, and have fun. Hermit Crabs love to climb over things and explore, so it important to supply them with fun toys. You can use things like unpainted clay flowerpots, plastic plants, corals, barnacles, and sea fans (which also provide them with calcium), driftwood, dried choya (or cholla) wood, rocks, shells, and man-made hermie-huts. Also, rearranging these things from time to time is a good way to help your Hermit Crab not become bored.
Water, Temperature, and Humidity
Your Hermit Crabs will need two separate water dishes: one for freshwater, and one for saltwater. Now, when I say salt water I do not mean go grab the salt from your kitchen and sprinkle some into the water, no. I mean, you must buy Marine salt that you would use in a saltwater aquarium and make the water in one of the bowls saltwater, this means 1.024-1.026 sg. The SG (Specific Gravity) of water can be measured with a hydrometer or refractometer. The second dish of water needs to be freshwater. Now, you must use chlorine-free water, at all times. Also, never use a metal container for your Hermit Crab's water, as metal can kill them.
The water bowls you use for your Hermit Crabs must be deep enough to fill your Hermit Crabs shells. This generally means about an inch deep for your larger hermit crabs and a half-inch or less for your smaller hermit crabs. If you have both small and big Hermit Crabs together put some pebbles into the larger water dishes in case some of your smaller Hermits end up in the deeper water dishes, they can get out. You also need something for your Hermit Crabs to get out of their water dishes in general, rather this be rocks, shells, or a natural sponge.
Hermit Crabs must have both the fresh and salt water supplied to them at all times, and it needs to be clean. So, inspect your water daily to make sure it's full and change it often, to keep it clean.
You must wash your Hermit Crab's water dishes, too. To do this you simply empty the water from the dish and wash it in tap water, do not use any soap or chemicals. You can use a brand new toothbrush, paper towel, or washcloth to scrub the dishes out. When you have finished washing them, dry them off, then refill and place back in the enclosure.
Hermit Crabs need a consistent temperature of 75-80 Degrees Fahrenheit. Low temperatures can kill them, but that doesn't mean set them in a window to bake, either. Use a thermometer to measure the enclosures temperature at all times, do not just guess as this can lead to serious problems. Signs of over-heating are a musty smell and a discharge of brown liquid. The use of an under the tank heater is sometimes required to keep the tank at sufficient heating levels. (These are best actually stuck to the backside of the enclosure, to avoid accidental deaths.) When using these you must have them on a thermostat to ensure they do not overheat, and you should frequently monitor the temperature of the enclosure. If the tank is warm enough, be sure to shut the heater off until it's needed. (IF YOU MUST USE AN UNDER THE TANK HEATER, ALWAYS EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION WITH THEM AND MONITOR YOUR TEMPERATURE, FREQUENTLY TO AVOID ACCIDENTAL DEATHS.)
Hermit Crabs do not require any special lighting. Some people use lights as a heat source though. If you choose this heating method it is still very important to monitor your heat level and ensure humidity stays at proper levels.
The specific type of Hermit Crabs we are discussing have adapted to live mostly on land, but they still need water and humidity. The humidity of your Hermit Crab's enclosure should be at 75% or more at all times. Letting the humidity fall will lead to a painful death. The use of a hygrometer to measure the humidity levels at all times is recommended. Ways to keep your Hermit Crab's enclosure humid are to mist the substrate, use natural sponges, and always use water dishes. To mist the substrate, simply use a spray bottle. When using natural sponges you can place some in your water dishes, and also you can set a large one in a separate water dish, near the heating mat. If you find that your humidity levels are not sufficient try adding more sponges and larger water dishes.
You must also care for your natural sponges as it is very easy for them to collect bacteria and become really gross and grow molds and fungus. You should always have a few spare natural sponges on hand, as you will need to swap them out to disinfect them regularly. You should disinfect your sponges when you do your weekly substrate cleaning. You can clean your natural sponges by a vary thorough rinse in hot water, then a short sea salt soak (a few minutes is fine), followed by a a rinse in chlorine-free water. If you do this regularly this should be enough to keep your sponges clean, however, if you find yourself needing an extra bit of cleaning to your sponge place a completely dry, not even a little bit damp sponge, in the microwave for 2 minutes. (If the sponge is even a little bit damp, it will shrink up to pretty much nothing.)
NOTE: Natural sponges are a special type of sponge that isn't a regular sponge used for cleaning or dishes. You can find Natural sponges by typing it into Google. It's not your average sponge.
Hermit Crabs are scavengers by nature, and will eat a lot of things. It's very important to vary your Hermit Crab's diet to ensure they get all sorts of different nutrition and vitamins. If you're using a commercial Hermit Crab food, be very carefully and check all ingredients as some contain copper sulfate, which can kill your Hermit Crab. You can feed your Hermit Crabs many things such as: silversides, fresh shrimp, freeze-dried krill, bloodworms, and other seafood, they can eat things like raw chicken and steak. They also love fresh fruit such as: watermelon, pineapple, pears, apples, mango, papaya, banana,s grapes, coconut shavings etc...They can also eat hard-boiled eggs, boiled egg shells, and unsalted and un-buttered popcorn. Avoid spicy foods, preservatives, and Allium plants such as onion and garlic. Change your hermit Crabs food daily, and try not to feed them the same thing over and over.
Bathing and Molting
Now, we come to the subject of bathing. A lot of people will discuss the pros and cons of bathing your Hermit Crab, and it is a subject that is very confusing. However, if your humidity levels are where they should be, bathing is not needed, except in very certain situations. When given the proper conditions, bathing isn't necessary as the Hermit Crabs will do it themselves, and it will only stress them out if you do it. However, in a few cases bathing is needed. One of these cases is when you're introducing a new Hermit Crab into your current Hermit Crab enclosure. This is so the new guy has the grime from the pet store off of him, and he smells the same to the others. The second situation is after the Hermit Crab molts. The reason you should bathe them after a molting is because they have a smell of shed exoskeleton on them, and smell like food to the other Hermit Crabs. So, to avoid cannibalism and fights, we bathe the Hermit Crabs after they have molted.
Now, to bathe a Hermit Crab, prepare a bath for them (not in your bathtub, of course). Most people do this in a plastic container that they have set aside for Hermit Crab baths. The water you use must be entirely chlorine-free, and neither hot nor cold. Once the bath is prepared take your Hermit Crab and try to get him to walk down your hand into the bath, if this doesn't work, you can slowly lower him into the tub, until he rests on the bottom. Your Hermit Crab needs to be fully submerged in the water, for 1 (one) minute. Do not ever leave your Hermit Crab unattended in the bath. The reason for this is they can escape and you do not want a lost Hermit Crab wandering your home. After the minute is up, take your hermit Crab out of the bath and set him somewhere he can fully dry. The drying area can be as elaborate, or as plain as you like. Some people set up a little play area for their hermit crabs, and some people just set them in a box with paper towels to dry. Allow your Hermit Crab to dry fully before placing it into the permanent enclosure. (Hermit Crabs are very active after their baths, so this is a fun time to watch them explore their home.)
Molting is something all Hermit Crabs do. Hermit Crabs molt in order to grow. From time to time your Hermit Crab will bury itself, and you won't see it for a while, don't panic. It's important you do not disturb your crabs during this time as it can stress them out and lead to death. Once your hermit has molted, do not remove the skin from the tank; your hermit Crab will eat his old exoskeleton to help his new one harden. Also, you must keep extra shells of similar size to your current crabs in the enclosure, this is so your crab can swap out its shell when the old one is getting too tight. Never buy painted shells as the paint is toxic (even if the company says non-toxic) and if the Hermit Crab were to eat any of it, it could die. If you want to see your Hermit Crab switch shells you must have patience, and watch them often because when it decides to switch its shells, it's very quick.
Finally, we have come to the section of handling. A lot of people like to hold their Hermit Crabs, but not many people know how to properly do it. First, you must remember that Hermit Crabs are crabs and they can pinch you. That shouldn't stop you from holding your Hermit Crab though, because if you do it right, they do not pinch often. We will begin with the proper way to pick up your Hermit Crab. To avoid pinching, pick up your Hermit Crab by the back of its shell, never by the front. Then you can either place it on your hand, a bed, a clean floor, or something of the sort. Never close your fist around your Hermit Crab as this will scare them and they will reach out and pinch, and never put them in your pocket. If you wish to hold your Hermit Crab in your hand then watch it carefully to avoid pinching, or letting it drop. You can place one hand in front of the other (palm to fingertips) continuously to let your Hermit Crab walk (don't place it fingers to fingers as this isn't enough walking space and your hermit crab will get nervous and pinch). If your hermit Crab is on another surface supervise it very carefully so it does not fall, or get lost. Never leave a hermit Crab out of its enclosure unattended.
When you first buy your Hermit Crab, it is recommended you do not hold it for the first couple of days. The reason for this is most new Hermit Crabs are starving and will pinch at anything in hopes of getting food.
If you're nervous about handling your crabs use gloves the first few times to try and get used to their feel and weight.
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