Pinch off too much?

Tips on how to keep those living beach souvenirs alive

Tips on how to keep those living beach souvenirs alive

August 15, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Like a siren's call to sailors, children can't resist taking hermit crabs home as beach vacation mementos.

So after the car's unloaded and the sand has been shaken out of the bathing suits, parents are left with a new addition to the family and no clue how to keep it alive.

Mara Waldeck, owner of Fins, Feathers N' Friends in Charles Town, W.Va., says her store has been selling hermit crabs and hermit crab accessories for 18 years.

"People always want to know what they can eat," she says.

Ashley Daniels, an employee with Pugh's Petcenter in Hagerstown, remembers being one of those children who couldn't resist the crustacean as a pet. Now, she's helping first-time owners with their pets.


But both women say the question they're asked most often is simply: "How do I keep care of a hermit crab?"

Hermit crabs are known for the colorful seashells that they wear on their soft back and carry with them. According to, there are two types of hermit crabs sold as pets in the United States. The best way to determine which is which is to check out the claw color. The Caribbean hermit crab gets its nickname as the purple-colored pincher because of its coloring, while the other popular type, the Ecuadorian crab, does not.

Although hermit crabs might be thought of as having the short lifespan of a carnival goldfish, experts say hermit crabs live between five and 15 years. Some have lived to be 40 years. Daniels says hermit crabs aren't that hard to take care of. It just takes a little know-how.

"They're really great for a first time pet because they're easy to take care of," she says. "It can teach responsibility, but not be overwhelming."

Waldeck echoes her sentiments. "They're great to teach pet responsibility," she says. "They're fairly low-maintance and hard to kill."

Here are 10 easy tips to help keep the hermit crabs living a longer life.

1. Chuck the gravel. Hermit crabs are typically sold at boardwalk stores in a small plastic aquarium-like box with a lid on it sometimes called a cage. Daniels suggest getting rid of the aquarium gravel that typically comes in the cage. Replace the gravel with a layer of sand or coconut fiber. She recommends sand.

2. Let there be light. Although a cage shouldn't be kept in direct sunlight, hermit crabs do like light. "They live longer with it," Daniels says. Special lamps help to keep their cages nice and toasty.

3. Water, shaken not stirred. Hermit crabs can live without food for weeks, but they need a constant supply of fresh water. Daniels recommends keeping water in special bowls that allow for easier access. Also keep a special sponge in the tank that allows the crab to soak up even more water. Waldeck says it's import to use distilled water. "The chlorine in tap water can be harmful," she says. Daniels says there is special water conditioner chemical to turn tap water into the saltwater crabs like.

4. Spray misty for me. Crabs love humidity, so Daniels suggests spritzing the interior of the cage once a day. Hermit crab's habitat should be between 75 and 85 degrees and keep misting to keep the humidity up, according to

5. A crab's gotta eat. One reason hermit crabs are an inexpensive pet is because food isn't costly. Waldeck says crabs food costs about $4 per can and can last for a long time. As a supplement to the food, Daniels says to put diced apples in the cage and let the crabs feast. "But you want to clean the apples out each day so it doesn't stink," she says.

6. It's recess time. Waldeck says crabs like to have elements in their cage for them to crawl around in. She prefers cholla wood, a spongy type wood with holes that the crabs like to crawl around in. Rocks for them to climb on also are a nice addition. She recommends decorating the cage so it is functional and fun for your crab. "Think of it like your room," she says. "... Don't expect to put them in the tank with sand and be happy."

7. Moving day. As crabs grow, they eventually need larger sea shells. Waldeck says she keeps a variety of sizes of shells in the cages at her store so that when the crab is ready for a bigger home, there are plenty to choose from. Daniels says she sells many colorful shells as well as shells decorated with cartoon characters such as Bart Simpson.

8. Get to know them better. Hermit crabs don't mind being handled, just don't try to pull them from their shells. According to, a crab will rather be torn apart than be taken from its shell. Daniels says getting the crabs out of the cage and playing with it is a good idea because the crab can get used to its handler. Waldeck says people think they bite. They don't, but they pinch, but Waldeck says it's not that hard.

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