It is a common occurrence on a trip to the beach. A vendor on the boardwalk peddling adorable, quarter-sized crustaceans in tiny, wire cages. A small crab in a brightly painted shell: what better way to remember your seaside vacation than to take a piece of the ocean home with you? These unfortunate critters rarely live longer than a few months — a year if they are lucky.
It would surprise most people to learn that hermit crabs, when cared for properly, can and frequently do live up to 40 years. Unfortunately, even pet stores provide misinformation on the care of these amazing animals, often providing new hermit crab owners with improperly sized enclosures, inappropriate sand mixtures, unhealthy food and water solutions and dangerous toys.
Hermit crabs are no easy pet to own. Initial tank set-ups cost upwards of $100 for the right materials. The minimum recommended tank size for two crabs is a 29-gallon aquarium, as the crabs need ample space to burrow in the sand for de-stressing and molting. And it is necessary to have at least two crabs, because despite the name, hermit crabs are extremely social creatures and live in large groups in the wild. It is also necessary to house hermit crabs in a sealed aquarium, as the animals breathe through modified gills that will become permanently damaged if they are in conditions with less than 80% humidity for too long.
These things are only the beginning of a long list of things that pet stores do not tell new hermit crab owners. Other necessities are multiple extra unpainted shells of the proper size for each crab to prevent fighting, a minimum of six inches of sand in the tank and an under-the-tank heater (UTH) to maintain proper heat without zapping humidity. In addition to these, the crabs need their food and water changed at least every three days to maintain health.
When properly cared for, the most common species of hermit crab pets in the U.S. (the purple pincher) can grow to be the size of a baseball. The oldest crab currently in captivity is a 44-year-old purple pincher named Jonathan Livingston Crab. His owner lives in Florida and allows the jumbo crab to roam free in her home.
Although not many people give a second thought to hermit crabs, they are immensely complex and interesting creatures that can live extremely long lives if the correct attention is devoted to them. I hope that in the future, more awareness is brought to what the real requirements are for owning these magnificent animals so that we can reduce the number of hermit crabs that live pitifully short lives in woefully inappropriate conditions. Accurate info on hermit crabs can be found on crabstreetjournal.org.