The Panda Crabs (Lepidothelphusa padawan) may be small in size, but it is widely regarded as one of the most visually stunning crabs. These crabs are semi-terrestrial, thus they can be a good choice for a paludarium setup.
While Panda Crabs are fairly hardy creatures, they do require warm temperatures and high humidity to thrive. Fortunately, their small size means that they won’t take up much space in your tank.
Because it is becoming more and more common to keep crabs as pets, there is an increase in demand for them among enthusiasts. Unfortunately, demand not only frequently exceeds supply on the market but also the scientific research on them as well. This species is a perfect example of that.
This article provides a comprehensive collection of all currently available information on the Lepidothelphusa padawan species, including optimal conditions for their care, feeding, and breeding.
Quick Notes about Panda Crab
||The Sarawak land crab|
|Scientific Name||Lepidothelphusa padawan|
|Tank size (minimum)||5 gallons (~20 liters)|
|Average size (carapace)||up to 0.4 – 0.6 inches (1 – 1.5 cm)|
|Average size across the leg span
||1.2 – 1.6 inches (3 – 4 cm)|
|Optimal Temperature||75 – 82°F (24 – 28°C)|
|Optimal PH||7.0 – 8.0|
|Optimal GH||4 – 16|
|Optimal KH||0 – 10|
|Nitrate||Less than 40 ppm|
|Life span||up to 3 years|
|Color Form||White-dark and purple-to-black color pattern|
False Taxonomy of Panda Crabs on the Internet
I have been in this hobby for many years, and early on I realized an important thing – it is crucial to verify nearly everything on the Internet because information that is repeated by numerous sources is not always correct.
This is exactly what happened with the Panda сrab.
If you look at other sources, they all (maybe some will alter their information on their websites after this article) say that this crab is a member of the Lepidothelphusa cognetti species. This is untrue, though.
Panda сrabs are members of the species Lepidothelphusa padawan, according to scientific studies in which these species were described and captured on camera.
Lepidothelphusa padawan can be easily distinguished from Lepidothelphusa cognettii and congeners in having a distinctive white-dark purple to black body in life. Lepidothelphusa cognettii is almost cream-white, with light yellow anterior regions, and chelipeds, light blue posterior regions.
Once again, I will reiterate that a mistake made by one person is simply repeated by others because it is way easier to rewrite existing information than to conduct one’s own research.
Etymology of Lepidothelphusa Padawan
The word “Lepidothelphusa” is derived from two ancient Greek words: “Lepidos” (λεπίς), which means “Scale,” and “Thelphusa,” which is the name of a genus of freshwater crabs. The word “lepidos” refers to the scales that cover the carapace or shell of these crabs.
The species is named after Padawan, the area where it was collected. The name is used as a noun in apposition.
Destribution of Panda Crabs
This crab species has only been described in one location, which is Kampung Sentah in the Padawan District of Sarawak, Malaysia.
Habitat of Panda Crabs
These crabs inhabit damp rocks and leaf litter found in partially shaded forest springs. The mudstone substrate in this area lies at an elevation of 330 – 1000 ft (100 to 300 meters) above sea level.
Description of Panda Crabs
Panda crabs are relatively small crustaceans. The average size (shell width) of the adult crabs is only about 0.4 – 0.6 inches (10 – 15 mm) long. Across the leg span, they barely reach 1.2 – 1.6 inches (3 – 4 cm) long.
Distinguishing characteristics of Panda crab:
Shape: These crabs have a relatively quadrate carapace with a smooth surface and serrated margins.
Color: It has a unique white-dark and purple-to-black color pattern. However, males have almost or entirely white carapace, dark purple (almost black) walking legs, white chelipeds, and at least three distinctive white-dark purple/black patterns on the carapace.
Females are usually a uniform dark brown to purplish-brown to black, with cream-white chelipeds.
Claws: The fingers of the adult major male chela have the widest gape compared to other species in the genus Lepidothelphusa.
If you need a more detailed and scientific description of this fish species, you can read about it in this study here.
Lifespan of Panda Crab
Currently, there is no data available on the maximum lifespan for Lepidothelphusa padawan in the wild.
However, in captivity, these crabs can live up to 2 – 3 years, if appropriately cared for.
Typical Behavior of Panda Crab
Although the behavior of this crab species has not been extensively studied, the available information suggests that Panda crabs have complex social relationships.
On the one hand, they can be found in groups. On the other hand, males may occasionally act aggressively toward one another.
These crabs are primarily active at night, but they are not very shy, especially in large groups, and can even come out during the day.
Note: This nocturnal behavior is not uncommon for small invertebrates and is mainly associated with attempting to avoid visual predators whilst feeding. However, it does not mean that you will never see them in the day time at all. They are simply less active during this time.
Panda crabs are not diggers in their true sense, but they can push out some soil to make their own dens. In nature, they usually do that at the edge of the water bodies.
- Social: Yes
- Active: Yes
- Peaceful: Yes (generally)
- Burrowers: No (generally)
Feeding Panda Crab
Panda crabs can be classified as opportunistic omnivores (because they have adapted to eating both animal and plant material dead or alive). It means that they will eat just about any food they manage to find on the bottom of your tank.
For the best growth, feeds should contain protein at a level of about 30 – 40% of the diet.
In captivity, Panda crabs will eat a wide variety of foods including:
- Vegetables (like broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, corn, spinach, peas, squash, leafy greens, etc.)
- Fruits (Apple, banana, pear, melon, mango, etc.)
- Leaf litter
- Detritus worms
- Tubifex worms
- Freshly crushed snails
- Dead fish or shrimp, etc.
Foods Panda crabs will enjoy (examples with links to check the price on Amazon), for example:
- Shrimp pellets
- Shrimp Granules
- Shrimp food (Hikari’s crustacean food like Hikari Shrimp Cuisine, etc.)
- Frozen blood worms
|Although these crabs are not picky eaters, that does not mean we can feed them the same thing every day. Avoid doing it because it can make them sick and reduce their lifespan.|
Panda crabs need a well-balanced diet:
- Protein (the main)
- Vegetables and fruits
As for calcium, it is a crucial component of the Panda crab’s shell, cellular function, and overall health.
A calcium deficiency can cause weakness and crack in the shell of your beloved pet, and when this happens, the crab becomes susceptible to diseases, heat, and dehydration.
Calcium can be found in such products as:
- wonder shells,
- oyster shells,
- insects, etc.
Note: A few small pieces of cuttlefish bone should be in the tank all the time if you want to keep Panda crabs strong and happy.
Do not let them starve. Otherwise, despite their relatively peaceful temper and small size, they can even cannibalize.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Feeding Frequency: 3 – 4 times a week
How often should we change the food for Panda Crab?
Generally, we can leave their food for 24 hours before removing it to prevent moles.
Also, it is best to feed them at night or in the evening because they are nocturnal animals who naturally eat when others sleep. In addition, by doing so you’re recreating natural conditions for these crabs.
Are Panda Crabs Plant Safe?
Yes, these crabs are safe to keep in planted paludariums. They also usually do not uproot or cut plants.
Caring and Keeping Panda Crabs
If we want to make them happy and give them a long life, we need to take care of their fundamental needs. The most important one is that they are not entirely aquatic species. Panda crabs are semi-terrestrial species.
Panda crabs require less space than most other species of crabs. For example, a 5-gallon (20 liters) tank with lots of hiding places can easily house 3 adult crabs (1 male and 2 females).
Unless you have a larger tank, males should not be kept together in the same enclosure due to potential territorial fights and hostility.
Another advantage of large tanks is that it may be easier to set up a paludarium with diverse areas for them to dwell. It is all about hiding places!
Note: Panda crabs are great escape artists. So, a tight-fitting lid is essential.
Land vs Water Ratio:
Panda crabs are not fully aquatic; they are semi-terrestrial crabs! Ideally, the land area should take at least 50-70% of the space in your tank. For example, in nature, they mostly live on the moist banks.
Water Bowl and Water Type:
Panda crabs do not need a lot of water. They will be completely happy with a suitably sized bowl of water available to them 24/7.
- The water only needs to be a few inches deep. It should be big enough to completely submerge your crab. As long as water pools can completely cover their entire bodies, they will be fine.
- It should be big enough to fit at least half of your crabs in it at the same time.
- It also should have some hiding places.
- It is crucial to provide a variety of surfaces for them to get out of the water. You also can place some rocks or driftwood in the water to create small islands that the crab can climb onto.
Important: Panda crabs cannot stay in the water all the time. They will drown. It is crucial to provide a variety of surfaces for them to get out of the water.
Panda crabs need only freshwater!
If you use tap water, add Seachem Prime (link to check the price on Amazon) to remove chlorine, chloramine. This water conditioner will also bind to heavy metals, any ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates present for up to 48 hours. Consider Prime as your additional safety net.
Pros and Cons of Water Bowls
- All water changes will be very easy and simple.
- There will be no need to use any filters to maintain cleanliness and prevent toxicity!
- Water bowls usually do not look great in the setup unless you know how to decorate and hide things.
- Frequent water changes. You will have to replace it every 2-3 days.
Classic Paludarium Setup
If you do not want to use a water bowl and decide to go for a classic paludarium setup for Panda crabs, you need to know their preferences. These crabs thrive in water with:
pH: a pH range of at least 7.0 – 8.0. If the pH is too low, they may become lethargic.
Temperature: temperature should be around 75 – 82°F (24 – 28°C).
Hardness: KH 0 – 10 and GH 4 – 16.
To replicate their natural environment, provide them with coconut fiber, soil, or peat. You can use smooth gravel and sand for the aquatic section.
There is no need for a very deep substrate. In most cases, 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7 cm) will be enough.
Panda crabs prefer a warm, humid environment, and the ideal temperature range for them is between 75 – 82°F (24 – 28°C).
Note: In their natural habitat, the average temperature ranges from around 72°F (22°C) to 90°F (32°C).
Keep in mind that crabs are “cold-blooded” animals, which means that the temperature of their body is entirely dependent on the temperature of their environment.
When the body temperature drops, their metabolism (activity) slows. A temperature shock might occur if it lowers too quickly or too low.
A heat mat placed under the tank to maintain the tank’s temperature can help prevent this.
Humidity levels are very important. Panda crabs need moist, and humid air to breathe.
In their natural environment, the average humidity ranges from around 75% to 85% throughout the year, with higher levels during the rainy season.
Therefore, an ideal range would be between 70 and 90%.
Humidity can be changed by adding more moisture, less ventilation, or by adding more ventilation. This is normally a trial and error process, so expect it to take some adjusting to get it perfect.
No special requirements. Panda crabs are nocturnal animals.
If you have plants, lighting should be adapted to their needs. In all other cases, you may not even need one.
Decorations and Hiding Spots:
Panda crabs require a significant amount of hiding places in order to thrive. And by significant, I mean A LOT!
Providing ample hiding spots, including those in the water, is essential. In fact, the more hiding places available, the more active and engaging these little creatures become. This is because when they feel less secure due to a lack of hiding places, they tend to hide more frequently.
To enrich their environment and provide plenty of shelter options, consider incorporating live plants, PVC pipes, bark, driftwood, stones, nets, porous bricks, and other decorations. Additionally, moss is a particularly favored hiding spot for these crabs.
Rules: How to Care and Handle Panda Crab:
- Panda crabs are not pets you can play with. Do not take them out just because you want to.
- They should never be lifted up by their legs or claws!
- Do not leave uneaten food for too long. It can cause smell and bacteria in their enclosure. Remember, these crabs like to store uneaten food in their burrows.
- Provide as many hiding places as you can.
- Keep the warm temperature and high humidity.
- Make sure the lid of the tank is closed tightly so that they cannot escape it.
Molt Cycle of Panda Crabs
Periodic molting is vital for the growth of all crustaceans. This process is characterized by a complete replacement of the old mineralized exoskeleton with a new one.
This process consists of 4 phases:
- NEVER disturb your crabs when they are molting.
- Do not panic even if you have not seen them for a few days in a row! The molting cycle may extend over days. So, give them time. This is the most stressful moment in their life.
- Keep putting and replacing food in the tank! 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. The crab exoskeleton is multi-layered and consists of calcified chitin, protein, and lots of minerals. Your crab will eat it later.
Breeding Panda Crab
There are a few indicators that give away the gender of the animal.
- Size. Males are generally larger than females. However, because of their small size, it can be really hard to notice the difference.
- Abdomens. Different shapes of the abdomens. Males have a narrow and slimmer plate (triangular) while females have a broad plate on their belly.
When a female is ready to mate, she signals her receptiveness by allowing a male to approach. During mating, the male assumes a dominant position by flipping the female upside down and wrapping his body around her to fertilize.
The entire process typically lasts several minutes.
Incubation and Hatching:
Genus Lepidothelphusa is a true freshwater crab. They do not need to return to the sea to release their eggs and larvae. This species has direct development.
Females can carry about 20-40 eggs.
The eggs hatch into miniature versions of the adult. The females brood the juvenile crabs for short periods before releasing them.
Panda Crabs and Suitable Tankmates
The ideal situation for Panda crabs is a species tank. These crabs can be kept in a group relatively safely, but only under several conditions:
- Males to females ratio (1:3). In the small enclosures, Males, in particular, are extremely likely to fight.
- The tank should have lots and lots of hiding places.
In a large paludarium setup, it is possible to keep dwarf shrimp and small fish with them. These crabs do not spend a lot of time in the water.
Bad Tank Mates:
- Any crayfish species.
- Other crab species.
Panda crabs are tiny, semi-terrestrial crab species that are perfectly suited for small paludariums. They are excellent scavengers and require minimal care.
With their striking coloration, they will definitely be an attractive addition to any paludarium setup.