SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Are you considering getting a hermit crab? Maybe you’re at a tourist shop and their painted shells caught your attention, or you’ve been watching them through the glass at your local pet store. Here’s what you should know before you buy one, according to hermit crab experts.
WSAV NOW spoke with Stacy Griffith and Darcy Madsen about the misconceptions surrounding hermit crabs and their care.
Griffith is the author of “The Complete Guide to Land Hermit Crabs and Their Care: Changing the Mindset of Hermit Crab Keeping” and president of the Land Hermit Crabs Owners Society. Madsen is a co-owner of the YouTube channel “Crab Central Station” and is also operating one of the few captive breeding programs in the United States for hermit crabs.
“More than likely, you’re going to be given misinformation or a lack of correct information,” Madsen said. She explained that this is part of a marketing ploy to sell more hermit crabs. She said that if people market the crabs as easy, cheap pets, they can sell more of them.
“It’s also not 100% their fault,” Madsen continued. “There hasn’t been the correct information readily available for a long, long time.”
She said it’s possible that the owners of these shops don’t know the proper care for hermit crabs, not that they are intentionally misleading customers.
A Long Commitment
“They are not a short-term pet,” Madsen stressed. “The reality is hermit crabs can live up to 40 years when properly cared for in captivity.”
Madsen said that the way that crabs are sold at beach shops and pet stores leaves them unhealthy and on the verge of death. So, when people purchase them, they are already getting an animal that will likely not survive for three years, let alone 30 or 40.
“They are not a throwaway pet at all,” Griffith said. “They are not a cheap, easy pet either.”
While their care may not be extremely complicated, Madsen said that there is definitely more to it than a bowl of water with a sponge, some sand and store-bought food.
“The $20 box that they sell — that little death box with the bright colored lid — is not a sustainable habitat,” Griffith said.
According to Madsen and Griffith, hermit crabs need a lot of sand so that they can successfully molt — something that is required for the animals to grow.
“They need a lot of different foods to actually be able to survive that molt, to grow, to thrive- and the pellet foods, unfortunately, don’t cover any of those needs,” Madsen said.
The other issue is water.
“I have heard recently that a lot of the shops are saying to not give your hermit crab salt water,” Madsen said. “Which, they’re from the tropical area. That’s mind-blowing to me that they wouldn’t need salt water.”
In reality, hermit crabs need both fresh and salt water pools. This is both to drink and because they mix their own water mixture inside their shell, which they use to breathe.
The Painted Shells
“They’re so pretty, they’re your favorite character, they’re glittery…” Madsen started. “There’s really a lot of big problems with the painted shells.”
Madsen stated a few in the interview. First, she said, they’re not natural. Next, the natural shells are taken from the wild to be painted.
This is leaving wild hermit crabs to make their homes out of trash instead.
“They don’t have the resources they need to grow and live because we’re taking them off the beaches to paint them,” Madsen explained.
Additionally, the paint is actually toxic to the hermit crabs. According to Madsen, the crabs will modify their shells to make them habitable. While modifying the shell, they can ingest the toxic paint. While soaking in water to breathe, the paint can wash off and make the water toxic.
Finally, the paint makes it difficult for the crabs to breathe.
“Natural shells are naturally porous,” Madsen said. When shells are painted, they cover the porous areas. This prevents the natural oxygen exchange that occurs within the shell.
There is currently a proposed bill in Illinois that, if passed, would ban the sale of hermit crabs in painted shells.
Store-bought or adopted?
The two said that if you are really interested in having hermit crabs, pause before you rush to buy them from a store.
“There are so many hermit crabs that are being rehomed,” Madsen said. “By not purchasing them from shops, you’re also not adding to the whole horrific industry and what’s going on with the pet trade.”
Griffith agreed with adoption as a good option.
“Even though they are wild-caught crabs, they are already in the pet trade, already in someone’s home and need to be cared for properly,” she said. “Adopting them is a great way to get pets without feeding the trade.”
You can learn more about hermit crab adoption through the LCHOS website.
There are also recent developments in attempts at captive breeding hermit crabs. Long thought to be impossible, some dedicated crab enthusiasts have been able to successfully breed them in captivity.
Mary Akers, one hermit crab breeder, has helped guide Madsen in her attempts at successfully captive breeding. You can read more about successful breeding attempts here.
Should you get one?
The two said that it is up to you if you think a hermit crab is the right choice for you.
“They really can be very engaging and rewarding for the right kind of person,” Griffith explained.
Why is that? Griffith said that this is partly because they are “hands-off” pets. This means that they need to stay in their habitat with physical interaction between humans and crabs kept to a minimum.
However, Griffith said that getting to watch the crabs can be rewarding in and of itself. According to her, each crab can exhibit its own personality, which can be exciting to witness.
“They can show signs of problem-solving and memory,” she explained. “They are so underrated. They are not just a little lump that sits in its shell that most of the people I speak to are familiar with.”