Strawberry Hermit Crab – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Strawberry Hermit Crab (Coenobita perlatus) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Strawberry hermit crab (Coenobita perlatus) is a popular species of terrestrial hermit crab that is commonly kept as an aquarium pet. This crab is quite attractive and interesting owing to its characteristic reddish-orange color and the mollusk shell it possesses.

These crabs are often marketed as low-maintenance pets. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. 

Strawberry hermit crab is not easy to care for because it requires near-perfect, ideal conditions similar to that of its natural habitat, and that’s difficult to achieve even for experienced hobbyists. 

Keep reading for all there is to know about the amazing Strawberry hermit crab, including how you can raise one in your captivity.

Quick Notes about Strawberry Hermit Crab

Name Strawberry hermit crab
Other Names
Land Hermit crab, Straws, and Candy Cane crab
Scientific Name Coenobita perlatus
Type Terrestrial
Tank size (minimum) 30 gallons (~120 liters)
Keeping Difficult 
Breeding Very Difficult 
Average size up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm)
Optimal Temperature 80 °F (26 °C)
Water type Freshwater and saltwater bowls
Humidity 80 %
Substrate Sand
Diet Detritivore /omnivore
Temperament Peaceful. Social  
Life span 1 – 5 years (in captivity)
Color Form Reddish-orange

Origin of Strawberry Hermit Crab

Coenobita perlatus is a terrestrial hermit crab species of the family Coenobitidae. Crabs in this family are widely known for their land-living habits as adults.

Their names originated from the reddish-orange color, more on this later.

It is popularly found in the Indo-pacific region. These regions are the tropical areas of the Indian oceans, the west, and the central Pacific ocean.

Habitat of Strawberry Hermit Crab

Their original habitat is tropical and subtropical areas. They are prevalent across the Indo Pacific — in Seychelles, African Islands, Aldabra, and Madagascar to Line and the Gambier Islands; Bonin and Yaeyama Islands of Japan and Australia.

Generally, they are found along the coastline. Coenobita perlatus is restricted to the lower terraces, closer to the sea.

These hermit crabs usually do not venture inland, and this habitat is imperative for its physiological functions.

Description of Strawberry Hermit Crab

Strawberry Hermit Crab (Coenobita perlatus) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - nocturnalThis terrestrial crab is one of the easily identifiable crabs. It is characterized by its orange-red coloration, and it is the most attractive of its genus. Of all land crabs, this crab clearly stands out in appearance. It is indeed a sight to behold.

Adults are stunning bright red with white spots/pores (that look like hair follicles in humans) all around their bodies. These markings earned them the common name “strawberry hermit crab.”

The abdomen of this hermit crab is always pure white.

Their eyes are generally clear brown but sometimes gray, or deep black, stretched, and look like polished shiny iron ore.

Interesting fact: Strawberry hermit crabs are able to locate food, mates, and water using olfactory antennae (antennules) to capture odors from the surrounding air.

The young crabs have a pale red to orange color. As they grow, their color changes gradually, and they acquire this stunning red color. Young crabs have creamy or white streaking on their legs which tend to disappear as they mature. For this, they also have a nickname called “Candy cane crabs.”

Strawberry hermit crabs occupy empty scavenged mollusk shells; these shells protect their fragile exoskeleton and contribute to their bulky build. They use the 3rd left leg (the shield leg) for closing the shell with the slightly fat left pincer.

Also, of its genus, the strawberry hermit crab is one of the largest; capable of growing to a maximum length of 6 inches (12 cm). Nonetheless, on average, they are about 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm) in length and weigh 2.5 – 3.5 oz (80 – 100 g).

Lifespan of Strawberry Hermit Crab

In the wild, Strawberry hermit crabs can live for as long as 25 – 30 years.

However, pet crabs live only for 1 – 5 years, even with the best care. Unfortunately, their lifespan in captivity is extremely shortened even for those that get lucky.

The reason is not far-fetched as it’s almost impossible to replicate their natural habitat, and they need a constant supply of seawater which may be difficult to achieve.

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Typical Behavior of Strawberry Hermit Crab

Strawberry hermit crabs are very active creatures in their habitats. According to the study, they enjoy climbing, burrowing, and roaming, especially at night.

Although these hermit crabs can often be active during the daytime, they are still considered to be nocturnal animals.

Note: In the wild, nocturnal behavior is a form of adaptation to avoid visual predators whilst feeding.

Be ready for cleaning. They are very messy and may rearrange everything in their crabitat overnight.

Strawberry hermit crabs are social animals. They act in conventional ways by toppling over one other. These creatures sometimes have pushing contests and feeler fights — whereby they smell one another.

Note: Strawberry hermit crabs get to know each other by pushing contests. They do this by sticking out their antennae and flicking their legs at each other.  

Another known behavioral trait is the crab’s retreat into its gastropod shell when it feels threatened or wants to rest for long hours. Strawberry hermit crab may attack a curious or hostile tankmate with its claws.

In hermit crab’s world, shells are the most treasured possessions. So, like all hermit crabs, these creatures sometimes have shell fights. They make chirping sounds while at it. Also, note that they may lose their shells and become bare during such fights.

Note that an injured or bare crab should be handled with utmost care because that is when it’s most vulnerable.

Lastly, strawberry hermit crabs become defensive by poking at people’s fingers when nudged. Some chirp when they feel intimidated, and will stick out their big claws defensively when picked up.

Features:

  • Social: Yes
  • Active: Yes
  • Peaceful: Yes (generally)
  • Burrowers: Yes 

Feeding Strawberry Hermit Crab. Problems of Diversity

Coenobita perlatus is also an omnivore/detritivore.

On the one hand, Strawberry hermit crabs are not picky eaters because they are scavengers. In their natural, they consume a variety of material ranging from plant material (such as fruits, seeds, plants, leaf litter, etc.) to animal material (in the form of carrion, dead con-specifics, and in some cases even prey). They play an important part in beach cleanup.

On the other hand, it may sound surprising but wrong or inadequate feeding is probably one of the main reasons for high mortality in captivity!

When we are talking about proper care, lots of people focus on the ideal crabitat (humidity, temperate, substrate, etc.). Unfortunately, they do not pay enough attention to the feeding. Moreover, even when they think that they are doing their best (diverse diet, etc.) is not enough.

Problems of Diversity

I have found an interesting study, where scientists examined hindgut bacterial in Coenobita perlatus.

The overall results indicated major decreases in Gammaproteobacteria class of dying (domesticated) Coenobita perlatus hindgut bacteria compared to live (wild) Coenobita perlatus. Healthy animals both in the wild and captivity should maintain a similar major bacterial population.

It means that the diet given in the captivity is less diverse than the one they ate in nature. The absence of gut microbes with significant roles in nutritional progression may cause serious damage and even mortality.

For instance, animal carcasses and feces consumed by Strawberry hermit crabs in nature will most probably not be given by pet owners for sanitary purposes.

Now, think again, do you really provide the various food items to diversify their diet?

General recommendations:

The food provided should be with the proportion of approximately 20% meat-based diets and 80% vegetables and others.

They need nutrients like calcium, astaxanthin, carotene, and even antioxidants, just like humans.

Note: Astaxanthin as pigments is important to hermit crabs because they are unable to synthesize pigments on their own and therefore have to rely on dietary supplements to achieve natural pigmentation. For example, krill and red seaweed are good sources of astaxanthin.

Strawberry hermit crabs will consume foods like:

  • corns,
  • carrots (these supply the carotene also needed to maintain their color),
  • leafy vegetables,
  • meat,
  • oak leaves,
  • spinach,
  • tree barks,
  • nuts and seeds,
  • bananas,
  • cranberries
  • broccoli,
  • sweet potatoes,
  • red peppers,
  • pumpkin,
  • squash, etc.

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Keeping and Housing Strawberry Hermit Crab

Housing crabs isn’t an easy task. Maintaining ideal captive conditions is one of the difficulties in raising Strawberry hermit crabs, and meeting the humidity requirement can also be an arduous task.

That said, the tank should be clean, spacious, and tidy. The goal is to mimic the natural habitat of the hermit crabs.

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Tank Size (Enclosure):

Strawberry hermit crabs like to stay in pairs, so don’t keep one crab solely. Two to three medium/large sized specimens would require a spacious tank, at least 30 gallons (~ 120 liters).

Don’t be surprised.

Strawberry hermit crabs are very active hermit crab species. They need a lot of room to crawl. In the wild, they can travel up to several miles in one night. In addition, they also love to climb and dig.

Thus, having a smaller tank will significantly limit their freedom. It will also make them more aggressive towards each other. Eventually, it will stress them and reduce their lifespan.  

Water:

In the wild, Strawberry Hermit crabs require a constant supply of seawater to survive, and they would also need fresh water intermittently.

I need to stress it again – this species tends to rely heavily on saltwater. Saltwater has a huge impact on their health, and they require saltwater more than most other species of land hermit crabs.

Tip: Strawberry Hermit crabs love saltwater with bubblers.

Provide them with:

  • a bowl of saltwater, and
  • a bowl of freshwater.

Generally, the water only needs to be a few inches deep to completely submerge your hermit crab.

How to prepare water:

To prepare saltwater you can use Instant ocean marine salt (or similar products – check the price on Amazon). This is a great choice. It is pretty cheap and will last very long.

Important: Do not ever use simple aquarium salt or table salt!

Regarding freshwater, ideally, you need to give them something like bottled spring or distilled water.

If you decide to use tap water, let it age for 24 hours before using it. Tap water contains chlorine and it is toxic to them. 

You can also use a water conditioner. For example, Seachem Prime will remove also toxic gases, bind to heavy metals, any ammonianitrites, or nitrates present for up to 48 hours.

Important:

  • Substances like chlorine, chloramine, and contaminants should be removed from the water before adding it to the tank!
  • Do water changes every 2 – 3 days.

Temperature:

Strawberry Hermit crabs are cold-blooded animals. Their body temperature varies with the temperature of the environment. It means that they rely on an external heat source because they do not have control of their heat balance.

A temperature of about 80 °F (26 °C) is mostly recommended.

Some owners suggest maintaining Strawberry Hermit crabs at a constant temperature with absolutely no variation.
Personally, I do not find it reasonable. After all, temperature variations from day to night are absolutely natural if they are in the range 75 – 84 °F (24 – 29 °C).

Humidity:

Strawberry Hermit crabs are very susceptible to humidity fluctuations. The humidity levels in their habitat is always above 70%. Ideally, it should be 80 all the time.

Why is it so important?

Even though hermit crabs are able to live on land with their modified gills, their gills must be kept moist to breathe. Humidity slows down the rate at which the gills dehydrate.

Important: DO NOT put hermit crab in the tank with high humidity if the pet store (previous owner) had low. You have to gradually make the humidity go up! Increase it by 5 % each day. Let the hermit crab adapt.

Sudden changes in humidity and temperature often cause surface molts, which leads to high mortality.

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Substrate:

Strawberry Hermit crabs are natural burrowers. Therefore, their tank also requires a good, damp substrate where these crabs can easily burrow into.

Important: When they are under the substrate, DO NOT EVER dig them up!

In nature, Strawberry Hermit crabs like substrate conditions that are dominated by sandy substrates.

In order to dig underground and form a cave, the substrate should always be kept moist enough. It means that it should hold its shape when you squeeze it (so-called “sandcastle consistency”). However, not so wet that it drips or pools water. Make sure not to waterlog the substrate to avoid the buildup of mold and other parasites.

Sand options:

  • Playsand (It holds its shape very well when made sandcastle consistency).
  • Pool Filter Sand (the same as playsand but has a uniform size).
  • All-purpose sand (larger grain size compared to playsand and stay moist a little bit better).

Note: If we are talking about crabitat that replicates a natural environment – sand is the only option. However, many hobbyists also use a combination of moist sand and coco fiber (1:5 ratio). It is easy to maintain and it holds moisture very well.

The general rule of thumb is that the substrate needs to be at least twice as deep as your largest crab. If your setup allows it will be better to go for 10 to 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) of the substrate when Strawberry Hermit crabs are kept.

They need deep substrate in order to molt properly and to avoid potential aggression during molting from other hermit crabs.

How to Prepare Sand for Strawberry Hermit Crab Tank

  1. Place it into a bucket and spray the sand with a hose.
  2. The excess water will run out of the bucket and the water will be cloudy and dirty initially.
  3. Keep rinsing. You will notice that the water will run clearer.
  4. If you think that sand is clean enough – rinse it again for a few more minutes!

Lighting:

Even though Strawberry Hermit crabs are more active at night, they also like to bask in the light. Therefore, special light bulbs or basking bulbs should be provided for them. Ensure the output is moderate to avoid overheating the tank and harming your hermits.

There are many reports that Strawberry Hermit crabs love the UVB lamp. This is probably because UVB triggers vitamin D production.

Note: Replacing bulbs every 6 months is recommended for safety reasons.

Decorations:

Strawberry hermit crabs are energetic, and they need driftwood and natural vines to for their daily maneuvering theatrics.

Provide as many decorations as you can and you will make them happy.

Shell preference:

Shell acquisition is a vital behavior for hermit crabs. Strawberry hermit crabs utilize empty shells to protect their abdomen from predators and environmental stresses.

However, they will not use any shell for that.

Through evolution, each hermit crab species developed a specific preference towards shells with certain morphological traits that give them the most advantage to facing environmental stresses.

According to the study, Strawberry hermit crabs have a clear preference for robust shells with a thick shell wall, ovoid shape, and round aperture.

This type of shell allows the hermit crab to use its larger left chela to fully seal the opening when they retract into the shell. It effectively reduces evaporative and does not affect mobility or restrict their movements on or under the substrate.

Larger shells are needed periodically as hermit crabs grow.

Important: provide them with lots of shells to choose from. The “Shell shop” should contain shells of different shapes and sizes. It is recommended to have at least 5 shells per Hermit crab, but more is always better.

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Care rules:

Strawberry Hermit crabs are extremely difficult pets. They need a lot of concern and attention to thrive in your tank. Here are a few things you must take cognizance of:

  • Keep the environment humid consistently. The humidity levels should be regulated to 80%, monitor this with a humidity gauge or hygrometer. The substrate should be kept damp ‘sandcastle consistency’.
  • Handle your hermit crabs with utmost care. Be cautious too, they can snap at your fingers with their pincers. Generally, it does not hurt BUT you can flick your hand instinctively and your pet will go flying somewhere. They can get hurt easily, even with their hard shells.
  • Eliminate chlorine and contaminants from the water before usage.
  • Do not use pesticides on your crabs; they will kill the crabs.
  • Don’t keep only one crab. Hermit crabs walk in pairs in the wild.
  • Provide the various food items to diversify their diet (20% protein and 80% vegetables).
  • Replace the substrate bedding at least once every six weeks with a fresh one.
  • Hermit crabs health needs to be maintained by separating them from specks of dirt, such as food and metabolic waste (feces and urine)

Post-purchase syndrome (PPS)

There is still no scientific definition of the post-purchased syndrome but this problem occurs when acquired Strawberry Hermit crab is transferred to a new artificial environment to be kept as a pet.

There are many cases where these hermit crabs died early in their captivity period despite the resources such as food, water, and controlled environment that had been provided.

I have already mentioned the study, where scientists believe that the change in dietary intake might be more prominent when we think.

The food given to Strawberry Hermit crabs in the captivity usually consisted of fresh or dried food which has fewer microorganisms compared to detritus, feces, or carcasses.

Breeding Strawberry Hermit Crab

Strawberry hermit crabs do not reproduce in captivity due to the absence of optimal conditions to stimulate breeding. So far, the best-known attempt was to keep larvae alive for 10 days.

Currently, the pet industry completely depends on wild-caught species. 

Some facts about mating and breeding Strawberry hermit crabs:

  • Differentiating between males and females is quite hard since the only major distinction is the presence of genital openings on the females called gonophores and the asymmetrical
    sexual tubes in males.
  • Mating occurs ventral to ventral with both crabs about three-quarters out of their shells, and the spermatophores are transferred by means of the modified pereiopods of the male.
  • Mating is initiated by males, the male crab gently taps and rocks the shell of the female crab, urging her to come out.
  • Females can carry up to several thousand eggs inside their shells.
  • In nature, females migrate to the ocean to release eggs that hatch into planktonic marine larvae.
  • Their larvae cannot develop in freshwater, they need saltwater.
  • Larvae are very responsive to light.
  • After a period in the planktonic larvae, larvae settle in the near-shore shallows and metamorphose into their juvenile, terrestrial form. This metamorphosis is followed by a transition to living exclusively on land.
  • There is no data on how many larvae stages, what temperature and salinity they require, and how long it takes to transform into tiny copies of adult hermit crabs.

Strawberry Hermit Crab and Suitable Tankmates

In their natural habitat, Strawberry hermit crabs live in a group with different land hermit crabs species. However, in captivity, they are often maintained solitary, and the necessities of social life are not fulfilled.

The lack of social need is another cause of high mortality in Strawberry hermit crabs.

According to the study, keeping them with other hermit crab species will affect their behavior and even survival rate!

Results showed that Strawberry hermit crabs had the highest survival rate (around 83%) when they were mixed with Coenobita brevimanus (Indonesian hermit crab). However, the survival was low when they were mixed with Coenobita violacens (Viola hermit crabs).

According to the same study, when they were kept with other hermit crab species, Strawberry hermit crabs showed different behavior patterns. For example, instead of roaming and climbing, they started hiding and burrowing.

Strawberry hermit crabs can coexist, but with the right species.

Ideally, the Strawberry hermit crab should be kept with conspecifics, since it’s somewhat unclear if the critter can live peacefully with other terrestrial animals like geckos, lizards, salamanders, newts, etc.

In Conclusion

Strawberry hermit crab (Coenobita perlatus) is one of the land hermit crabs you can keep as an exotic pet. They have a flashy, bright reddish-orange color that makes them highly desirable, gorgeous, and majestic.

Unfortunately, its maintenance can be tasking even for experienced hermit crab owners. DO NOT listen to what the pet stores say! They are not for beginners.

These crabs have very specific conditions to be met for their diet and habitat and are the most delicate of all of the hermit crab species. They are very sensitive to minute changes in temperature or humidity. For this reason, they don’t live long as they do in their natural habitat.

References:

  1. Strawberry hermit crab (Coenobita perlatus, H. Milne Edwards, 1837) gastropod shell utilization pattern according to the type and size. AIP Conference Proceedings 2242, 050021 (2020).
  2. Studies of male sexual tubes in hermit crabs (Crustacea, DecapodaAnomuraPaguroidea). 11. Morphology of the sexual tube in the land hermit crabs Coenobita perlatus and C. clypeatus (Coenobitidae). Biology of Anomura II (A.Asakura) Crustacean ResearchSpecial Number 6: 12 1- 13 1, 2006.
  3. Land hermit crabs use odors of dead conspecifics to locate Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 182 (1994) 169-182.
  4. Increasing Growth and Survival Rate of Land Hermit Crabs (Coenobita sp.) in Artificial Habitat through Feeding Habit.  Volume 3, Issue 3. 2007.
  5. The improvement of survival rate of land hermit crabs Coenobita (Malacostraca: Coenobitidae) in artificial habitat through multispecies and niche heterogeneity approach. IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science 404 (2020) 012087
  6. WULANDARI, ELISABET IDA, et al. “BACTERIAL DIVERSITY ANALYSIS IN HINDGUT OF LAND HERMIT CRABS Coenobita spp.” Journal of Biology and Nature (2015): 111-118.
  7. IRWANSYAH, ROMZI MAULANA, et al. “Crab diversity and crab potential as support ecotourism in Teleng Ria, Grindulu and Siwil Beach, Pacitan, East Java, Indonesia.” International Journal of Bonorowo Wetlands2 (2021).
  8. Coenobita spp. Related forums such as: http://crabstreetjournal.org/, http://www.hermitcrabassociation.com, http://www.hermitcrabparadise.com.

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