How to Dig up Molting Hermit Crab the Right Way

How to Dig up Molting Hermit Crab the Right Way

I will be honest, digging hermit crab up is never a good idea and is never recommended. Depending on what stage of the molting process they are in, it can be very stressful for your pet. Nonetheless, in some cases, we do not have a choice and it has to be done.

The safest move is to make a ditch to the very bottom on one end of the tank and carefully scrape away at the exposed edge of the substrate until you find their molting cave.

This article explores a step-by-step process of digging up molting hermit crabs and typical mistakes people often make.

When Digging Up Molters Is Necessary

Digging up hermit crabs can become necessary under specific circumstances.

  • a bacterial bloom (because of the over-wet substrate),
  • a flood,
  • parasites infestation (ant, mites, etc.),
  • moving to another place,
  • deep cleaning.

When such factors come into play, we cannot wait until the hermit crab is done molting. Delaying the inevitable may lead to disaster. Thus, we need to understand the risk and choose the lesser evil in the situation.

Step-by-step Process of Digging up Molting Hermit Crab

Now, let’s say you are moving out and one of your crabs is currently down.

  1. Prepare a dark container (isolation tank) of moist moss as a substrate medium waiting until the crab completes its molt.
    Note: Moss easily retains a lot of moisture and is very lightweight. So you will not have to worry about collapsed caves.
  2. If you do not know where crabs are, extremely carefully, remove all decorations, water bowls, etc. from the tank. Sometimes they can molt right under them.
  3. With your bare hands, you need to slowly make a ditch to the very bottom on one end of the tank.
  4. Keep digging with your hands around the perimeter of the tank until you have a clear area shaped like a ‘U’.
  5. Important: Do not rush the process. Make sure to stop every time you feel something hard with your fingers.
  6. Slowly scrape away at the exposed edge of the substrate. Try to keep the walls as straight an edge as possible. If you do it a little at a time, you will notice their molting cave without collapsing it.
  7. If you have a very deep substrate, put something in the dug area to hold the substrate in place.
  8. Once you found a cave of the hermit crab, there are 2 options:
  • Keep removing substrate around the crab, so you will be able to extract it out sideways. By doing so you will reduce the risk of collapsing the cave from the top.

Important: Handle it only by the shell.

  • You can use an icing spreader and a paintbrush to work around the spot then use a large spoon to scoop under the molting crab, including a small layer of the sand just in case they are still soft.
  1. Return to the place where you found your hermit crabs and try to find the old exoskeleton.
  2. In the ISO tank, dug a small hole in the substrate and place his old exoskeleton at the bottom of the hole.
  3. Move the molter to your isolation tank and placed your crab on top of the old exoskeleton.
  4. Put damp moss lightly over it and cover with a cocohut or something similar.
  5. Leave your hermit crab alone until it digs up on its own.
  6. Be patient and wait.

My molter seems to be active. Can I place it with the general population?

No, you should not do that. Digging up a molding hermit crab is a stressful situation. Therefore, their behavior is not a reliable indication of their condition.

Any hermit crab found underground should be considered a molter, and treated accordingly! No matter how it acts or what it looks like.

Moving them to the main tank can be a grave mistake. Firstly, it is quite possible that in a few days they will still decide to molt. Secondly, if you have other crabs, they may attack the molter.

Only if you see it active and moving around the isolation tank for at least 3 – 5 days, you can move it to the main tank.

Related articles:

Can I move the tank with a molting hermit crab inside?

It depends on many factors such as the size (weight) of your tank, the type of the enclosure, and, of course, your physical strength.
Moving a few hundred pounds of the wet substrate is not an easy task. In addition, if you are using a glass tank, it may cause seams to break, leading to shattered glass.

Another important reason you should not move a tank with molting crabs is that the cave they are in can collapse on them during jolting.

When hermit crabs prepare to molt they build small caves so that they have enough air to breathe and room to turn around in when they molt. Jostling the tank during transportation can cause that to collapse.

Thus, it is safer to dig up the crab and move the tank as empty as possible.  

However, it could be fine to handle the tank carefully if your tank is small and light, and you do not have to move it far away. In this case, a small jolt should not collapse the sand at the right consistency.

Should I bury the surface molting hermit crab?

Never bury or rebury a molting hermit crab on your own.

Remember, by doing so, you are not helping them. You are making it only worse. Much worse!

During molting, hermit crabs do not have the strength to create a new tunnel or cave underground. As a result, it can easily kill them.

Instead, you can put a hand full of moist moss and a container over the top of them. This way it will not crash or suffocate them.

It’s been a long time. Should I unbury the hermit crab?

No, you should not. Many new hermit crab owners do not know that hermit crabs need a lot of time to prepare for a molt. Burrowing does not mean that they will start molting right away. Actually, it can take them weeks and even months (depending on the size of the crab and its health conditions) before they start molting.

Do you know that large hermit crabs may go down for 4 – 6 months or even longer?  Do you know that in many cases the time they spend underground is just chilling rather than the actual molt?

That is why it will be a bad idea to dig up a crab, especially after only 1 or 2 months!

If you are worried that it might be dead, you need to wait at least 4 – 6 months and then go digging.

I accidentally dug up my hermit crab. What should I do?

First of all, do not panic. Unfortunately, most hermit crab owners have done it at least once. Yes, we all make mistakes.

Your next actions depend on the shell position.

  • If the opening of the shell is directed down, it is possible to put a little bit of sand over it.
  • If the opening of the shell is directed down, but it is obvious that the area crumbled around the shell, you need to use moss to provide cover for the crab.
  • If the opening of the shell is directed up, you need to use moss to provide cover for the crab.

Can a hermit crab die if a tunnel collapses?

Actually, it would depend on where the crab is in its molting process. If it has just started to molt, it will be weak to dig itself out. Lack of oxygen and space to move may lead to death.

If it has not started yet or is already done, it should survive.

Note: If a tunnel collapsed you will know it because there will be a crater in the substrate.

Can I add more substrate when a crab is molting?

Yes, you can add more substrate when your hermit crab is molting. Do not worry, their caves are relatively strong to carry a little bit more weight.

Just do not add too much (1 – 2 inches or 2.5 – 5 cm) and do not pack it down.

In Conclusion

I know that many hermit crab owners are totally against digging up the molting crab because digging it up will only cause it unnecessary stress and could possibly injure it.

Therefore, the general recommendation will be to wait and resist the urge to dig it up.

Nonetheless, if waiting is not an option, it is possible to dig them up. Just remember that it takes a while. This process is painstaking and slow and requires preparation.

  • have ISO tanks (or containers) for molting crab,
  • keep it covered so it can stay in the dark,
  • disturb it as little as possible,
  • do not touch molters. Molting crabs are jelly until they harden.

Related Posts:

1. Hermit Crab Tank Setup 
2. Hermit Crab Diet
3. Everything About Hermit Crab Molting
4. Hermit Crab Shells: What You Need to Know
5. My Hermit Crab Has Left Its Shell
6. Is Hermit Crab Dead or Molting?
7. How long do Hermit Crabs live? Lifespan | Life expectancy

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