The hobby of keeping hermit crabs as pets date back to at least the middle of the 20th century. In recent years, hermit crab keeping has become increasingly popular. If you are new to this hobby and are simply interested in learning about these creatures in general, including whether or not it’s worth having them as pets, this article is for you.
Hermit crabs have a lot of character and personality. With the exception of certain species, they are quite adaptable creatures so even beginners can manage them effectively.
At the same time, hermit crabs can live for a very long time. They are not particularly fond of being handled, and they become quite vulnerable during molting, among other things. All these factors could potentially pose obstacles when considering these animals as pets.
In this article, I will be weighing the Pros and Cons of keeping hermit crabs as pets, which should help you determine if they are the right pet for you.
|Before I start, I’d like to clarify that this list of pros and cons is formulated from my perspective. It means that certain points might have opposing implications for others.
For example, someone looking for pets with shorter lifespans might not find the “long lifespan” feature intriguing. Nevertheless, in order to help you make an informed decision, I will provide a brief and general analysis of each point.
List of Pros and Cons
- Simple and Small Tank Setups
- Easy to Feed
- Cheap maintenance
- Fascinating behavior
- Not expensive
- Great Learning Opportunity
- Exotic animals
- Small size
- Specialized care
- Specific nutritional needs
- Vulnerability during molting
- Do not bond
- No handling
- Not interactive
- Escape artists
- Cannot breed in captivity
- Cannot be kept alone
- Species Variations to Choose From
- Not very active animals
1. Simple Tank Setups
One of the advantages of keeping hermit crabs as pets is the ease of setting up their habitat.
Note: Although it will also require from you certain efforts to maintain the ideal conditions (I will talk about it in Cons).
Generally, you will need:
- at least a 10-gallon (40 liters) enclosure,
- water dishes,
- deep substrate,
- heater (If you live in an area where the temperature is lower than desirable for the crab),
- a few extra shells (in case your crabs decide to change it),
- hiding places with a few climbing structures.
As we can see, their tank requirements can be relatively straightforward. This simplicity can be especially appealing to beginners or those with limited time to dedicate to complex setups.
2. Easy to feed
All hermit crab species are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders. It means that they can consume a wide range of foods, including:
- commercial hermit crab food,
Another great advantage is that hermit crabs can easily live without food for a few days. So, even if you are going to be gone for a week, you can leave some extra food (that will not deteriorate too fast) and they will be absolutely fine.
3. Cheap maintenance
The cost of keeping hermit crabs as a pet will not cost an arm and a leg. This includes adequate housing, food, and accessories.
It can sound strange but in some cases, your hermit crabs can get more benefits with simple ones. Instead of creating something complex, fancy, and not practical.
Generally speaking, hermit crabs are more accessible and less expensive to feed and care for than most other pets.
Hermit crabs are generally considered peaceful and calm creatures. They are not aggressive towards humans and are unlikely to cause harm.
Although they may occasionally snap at your fingers with their pincers, it does not hurt. It is just the way they interact with the environment.
5. Fascinating Behavior
Hermit crabs display a variety of intriguing behaviors that can captivate the interest of pet owners.
From observing them changing shells as they grow to witnessing their climbing, digging, moving objects, and exploration activities, hermit crabs offer a window into the natural world that can be both educational and entertaining.
This aspect adds an element of wonder and curiosity to the experience of having hermit crabs as pets.
Generally, hermit crabs can live for 3 – 12 years on average, if given the proper care. Under optimal conditions, some species can live up to 15-20 years or even longer.
Despite the fact that keeping them as pets might be exciting, it also comes with a lot of responsibility for many years!
Do not keep them unless you are ready for that.
7. Not expensive
Generally, hermit crabs are not very expensive and can range from around $5 to $30 USD.
The price can vary depending on various factors such as their size, color, and location of purchase.
8. Great Learning Opportunity
Animal care is a valuable life lesson for kids of all ages and adults alike.
Caring for them involves understanding their unique biology, behavior, habitat requirements, and dietary needs.
This hands-on learning process encourages research, problem-solving, and responsibility as pet owners strive to create a suitable environment for their hermit crabs.
9. Exotic animals
You can’t surprise anybody with dogs, cats, hamsters, etc. For example, more than 63 million households in the United States own at least one dog. More than 140 million freshwater fish are owned by American households as well.
However, keeping hermit crabs is completely another story. It takes lots of courage and a particular interest in these creatures to keep them as pets.
Hermit crabs come from diverse habitats and exhibit unique behaviors that are not commonly seen in traditional pets.
Their distinct appearance, including their shells and fascinating body structures, adds an exotic and visually appealing aspect to your pet collection.
10. Small size
One of the benefits of keeping hermit crabs as pets is their small size.
Unlike larger pets, their compact stature makes them well-suited for various living spaces, including apartments, dormitories, or homes with limited room.
|Caribbean Hermit Crab (Coenobita clypeatus)
|up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm)
|Coenobita compressus (Ecuadorian Hermit Crab)
|up to 0.8 inches (1.8 cm)
|Strawberry Hermit Crab (Coenobita perlatus)
|up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm)
|Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)
|up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm)
|Ruggie Hermit Crab (Coenobita rugosus)
|up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm)
|Purple hermit crab (Coenobita brevimanus)
|up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm)
|Aussie crabs (Coenobita variabilis)
|1 – 1.5 inches (3 – 4 cm)
Keeping hermit crabs is not always sunshine and rainbows. Despite their simplicity, the following should be considered before owning them:
1. Specialized care
The simplicity of the setup I mentioned earlier has another side to it. Keeping hermit crabs as pets comes with specific care requirements, and each species may have its own temperature and humidity preferences. We need to replicate their natural habitat.
It is crucial to keep in mind that crustaceans are cold-blooded animals, meaning their body temperature depends on the environment. Sudden temperature changes can negatively impact them.
Additionally, humidity also plays a significant role in their well-being and affects their breathing and lifespan. Moreover, the substrate should have specific qualities to allow the crabs to burrow and feel comfortable.
In other words, it is absolutely essential to thoroughly research what each particular species requires and maintain the appropriate environment for them.
|You also need to know their shell preference as well as which shells should never be given to them, even though they may look amazing!
Read more about hermit crab shells here.
2. Specific nutritional needs
Hermit crabs are scavengers and can eat basically anything they find, this is true.
Nonetheless, to keep them healthy they need to have a varied diet to get the nutritional balance right. Additionally, experiments showed that Hermit crabs enjoy trying new foods and can get bored with eating the same meals every day.
Ideally, their food should contain specific amounts of all nutrients, such as: carbohydrates, calcium, protein, fats, and astaxanthin. It is also important to avoid acidic, salty, spicy, fried, and smoked foods.
3. Vulnerability during molting
Hermit crabs do not grow like mammals because they have a rigid exoskeleton that prevents their growth.
In order to grow, they have to shed the old exoskeleton in a process called molting (ecdysis). Molting also provides an opportunity to repair damage and replace lost appendages.
Unfortunately, during the shedding of the old exoskeleton and right after it, they are extremely vulnerable. The new exoskeleton is so soft, that they are unable to make normal movements. This is the most stressful part of their life.
Once the new exoskeleton has hardened the animal can move again.
It is very important to remember some rules:
- NEVER disturb your hermit crabs when they are molting.
- When they prepare to molt they usually hide. So, do not panic even if you have not seen them for a few weeks in a row.
- Keep putting and replacing food in the enclosure! You never know when they can come up from the molt.
- Keep giving them calcium-rich food.
- Also, do not remove the old exoskeleton from the tank. It contains lots of minerals and your hermit crabs will eat it later.
4. Do not bond
Unlike some pet animals (like dogs or cats) that can develop strong emotional connections with their owners, hermit crabs do not form the same type of bond with humans.
The best you can get from them is that they may recognize you as a low threat. Everything else is just beyond their abilities.
Thus, this lack of bonding should be taken into consideration if you are looking for a pet that can provide emotional attachment and companionship.
5. No handling
Hermit crabs do not like to be handled. Of course, you might have already seen a lot of videos where owners hold the hermits in their hands. Nonetheless, this does not change anything.
Hermit crabs are wild animals and cannot be tamed. They are not pets you can play with. Do not take them out just because you want to. Handling them can cause them to become stressed.
Also if you absolutely need to pick it up, you should NEVER lift the crabs by their legs or claws! Never forget about it.
6. Not interactive
Another drawback to keep in mind, when considering hermit crabs as pets, is that they are not highly interactive animals.
Hermit crabs do not play. All their actions are based exclusively on their instinctual nature.
They primarily focus on their natural behaviors, such as exploring their environment, molting, and finding new shells. Their interactions are often centered around these activities rather than forming social connections with their owners.
So, if you need a pet that can actively engage with you and respond to your interactions, hermit crabs are not a good choice for that.
Hermit crabs are pretty messy animals. They are great diggers and often construct deep burrows. In addition, they are pretty strong to move objects.
Therefore, it is unlikely that they will leave their crabitat the way that it was initially set up. With time, crayfish will rearrange it, digging into the substrate and dragging anything that is light enough for them to move.
8. Escape artists
Hermit crabs are very good escape artists. They will use silicon sealant, cables, tubes, or other items that go in and out of their enclosure to climb out and escape.
In addition, they are strong enough to push things aside and squeeze through openings.
Therefore, the top of the crabitat should be properly secured with a lid (screen, net, or something else) to prevent escape.
9. Cannot breed in captivity
Some people may consider it as a pro but for many other hermit crabs owners, the inability to breed them in captivity is considered a negative factor.
After hatching, their larvae spend their pelagic life through the zoeal stages to megalopae for several weeks in the sea.
This is extremely hard to replicate in home conditions.
10. Cannot be kept alone
Hermit crabs are social animals, not solitary. In the wild, they are often found in groups or colonies. As a result, they may not thrive or exhibit their natural behaviors when kept alone in captivity.
It was proven that the lack of social needs stresses them and shortens their lifespan.
11. Territorial behavior
This point might sound a bit contradictory after mentioning the social nature of these animals; however, it’s true.
Hermit crabs can also exhibit intraspecific (the same species) and interspecific (between the two species) aggression, particularly towards recently molted or smaller crabs. There are even cases where cannibalism occurs.
That’s why, when keeping multiple hermit crabs, it is important to provide plenty of hiding spots.
11. Species Variations to Choose From
The relatively limited variety of species is available compared to more traditional companion animals like fish, dogs, or cats.
While the diversity within the hermit crab world is fascinating, it’s worth noting that the options are not as extensive as those in other pet categories.
So far, there are less than 10 species in this hobby.
12. Not very active animals
Compared to many other pets, hermit crabs have a relatively low level of activity. Their nocturnal nature is a prime example of this.
Additionally, hermit crabs have the tendency to burrow for extended periods, often weeks at a time, especially during molting phases.
As a potential owner, it is important to consider whether you are comfortable with the quieter and less visible nature as part of your pet-keeping experience.
Currently, the pet industry completely depends on wild-caught species.
This factor is closely tied to the complexity of breeding hermit crabs in captivity. A very low success rate is due to high mortality and the insufficient availability of certain environmental stimuli outside of its normal habitat.
So, if you decide to acquire a hermit crab, consider looking on forums, Facebook groups, and platforms like Craigslist. You may find them from previous owners seeking new homes. By doing so, you contribute to conservation efforts and help spare the natural populations.
On the other hand, purchasing hermit crabs directly stimulates their continued extraction from the wild, further exacerbating the ecological damage.
Selecting the Right Pet Hermit Crab
Before you adopt a pet hermit crab, you need to find out about its care requirements, food preferences, habits, bedding, etc. needs for your new pets. Check the life expectancy of the crab species you would like to keep.
That way, you would be acquainted with the do’s and don’ts as well as how to properly handle and take care of it.
Important: if you have kids in your house, crayfish pets belong to the “look and care but DO NOT touch” category.
Hermit crabs are no pets that are for everyone.
On the positive side, these crustaceans can be extraordinary companions for many years! They are unique, inquisitive, have a long lifespan, and are relatively cheap to maintain. All in all, they don’t require much space or need not be taken for a walk.
Having them as pets will not be overwhelming, especially, if your schedule is already hectic.
The downside though is that hermit crabs come with specific care demands, offer limited owner interaction, necessitate careful handling due to their potential messiness, etc.
So, do not get them on impulse. Do your research. Weigh the pros and cons beforehand.