Now we’ve entered Summer 2019. Summer is a big season for picking up goldfish, betta fish, small reptiles, and hermit crabs. In the Northeastern area of the US at least it’s not uncommon to find these animals being given away as prizes at amusement parks, or sold cheaply at boardwalk shops. These animals are seen as easy to care for and short lived. But neither statement is really true.
Goldfish for example, if taken care of properly, can easily live for over two decades. The oldest known goldfish was 45 before passing away. Most parents that get fish for their children believe they can just be in a small water bowl and only have a lifespan of a few months. Hermit Crabs are not an exception to the “Toss Away/Souvenir Pet” concept.
While all pet owners should be responsible to do their research on any new animals they decide to get and prepare accordingly, sometimes they rely on the people they believe to be experts. I mean, obviously someone who sells hermit crabs must know a lot about them, right? If only.
Hermit crabs are most often encountered by people who are on vacation. They’re away from home, they see these awesome little guys in colorful painted shells, then they or their kids really want a hermit crab or two. And they’re in luck! They’re cheap, they only require a small cage, their food is cheap and lasts a long time, and you can leave them along for long periods of time without needing to check in on them. Dream pet, am I right? Check out this set up!
Totally cute and looks easy to deal with? A pair of little sea shell bowls for food and water, plus a sponge and you’re all set, right? It sounds like a dream pet. And the sellers are counting on vacationers to impulse buy because heck, when will they get out to the beach or boardwalk again? And the seller sounds really convincing about the little hermit crabs. They may even toss in a few items to make the sale.
Now the hermit crab(s) are ready to go home with their new family. The family may or may not research their new pet. If they do they’ll find out everything they knew and were told is wrong.
First, crabs are often wild harvested – if they’re being sold on the boardwalk, it’s pretty much a given that they’ve been harvested from the wild. The paint on their shells is not safe, and usually they’re pried from their natural shells and forced into painted shells. If provided new shells the hermit crabs will most likely change into a natural shell. This is because if they’ve been forced into a painted shell it may not be the right size for them.
Second, the cage. Open cages are terrible unless you live in a warm area with high humidity. Hermit crabs do best in 72+ degrees Fahrenheit, and 80%+ humidity. Wire cages have a tough time retaining heat or humidity, heating pads and an enclosed habitat are a must in most areas. The sponge is often pushed to help with humidity, but tends to encourage dangerous bacterial growth.
Third, the substrate. Gravel is terrible. Hermit crabs need a sand and eco-earth coconut fiber mixture that is wet and pliable (think sandcastle building consistency). This mixture should be mainly sand as too much fiber retains water pockets which can drown crabs or encourage tank flooding. You need roughly 6~12 inches. Hermit crabs will bury themselves in order to molt. It’s dangerous for them to molt on the surface. And it’s dangerous to discourage molting, molting is how Hermit Crabs grow.
Fourth is the food. Most commercial hermit crab food is mixed with not so good preservatives. Hermit crabs do best with fresh vegetables and fruits, plus proteins like eggs (raw or hard boiled), untreated meats, shrimp (raw/cooked), etc. There are many great food lists out there for hermit crabs. And lists for bad/toxic foods.
Fifth is the water. Two large dishes are needed, one with saltwater and one with freshwater. People are often told to bathe their crabs weekly, but this isn’t efficient or good. They should be able to chose when they want to be in the water, how long, and how frequently. Water should be treated with a dechlorinator.
There is much more – adding hiding spots, climbing spots, etc. But we come down to the main question – would Hermit Crabs be a popular pet if people knew off the bat how much they will cost them for proper care? In my opinion, probably not. Hobbyists who put work into their crabitats aren’t numerous. People who buy hermit crabs as toss away pets are extremely numerous.
What do I suggest for new crab owners? Join the Hermit Crab Association first off. Try to get a proper set up. Or set your crabs up for adoption. People looking to get into the hobby should try adopting crabs and discourage the hermit crab industry. And don’t hit yourself for failing at the beginning, failure just means you have room to grow and learn. I especially encourage parents who get pets for their kids to research and teach their kids to do the best for their pets.
And never treat any living thing as a toss away. They have lives too. This might sound cheesy, but it is an important concept many people seem to overlook.