Hermit Crab Care: Caring for Hermit Crabs
by Karole Dolen-Proffit

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If you've decided on a hermit crab for a pet, you've made a wonderful choice! They're fun and interesting, and once you learn the basics of how to care for them, they make great companions. Contrary to their name, hermit crabs are not solitary creatures. They enjoy the company of other hermit crabs, and in the wild are found in very large numbers. So be sure to pick a friend or two for your new pet. Below, you'll find some hints and tips for taking care your hermit crab.

HOUSING & HABITAT

The first thing you need to do is create a suitable home. This can be anything from a small glass fish aquarium, to a pre-made plastic habitat. You can even buy hermit crab kits in pet stores that contain everything you need to get started - substrate, food, shells, decorations, etc. The problem with most of the pre-made kits is that very often they are too small for long-term housing, especially if you have more than one hermit crab.

Your hermit crab's habitat should be kept between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your home, this may be very easy to maintain. If your home is kept at temperatures much lower you will need to purchase a special heating pad that is placed underneath the outside of the cage. Also, if the cage is kept much hotter than 80 degrees for a long period of time, it can cause damage and even death. A thermometer can help you maintain a fairly constant temperature. Hermit crabs also need humidity to survive. Misting, baths, and warm temperatures keep their bodies from dehydrating.

There are several options for substrate, or bedding, that you can choose for your habitat - Calci-sand (or other suitable, sanitized sand), gravel, small, smooth pebbles, or coconut fiber. Sand is usually the most popular choice for bedding. Make sure the substrate is deep enough so that your hermit crab can dig and tunnel underneath, and completely hide their whole bodies, shell and all.

Your hermit crab will need two small, shallow dishes for food and water. Never give your hermit crab plain tap water, because it contains chlorine and other dangerous chemicals that can kill him. To make tap water suitable for your hermit crab, you'll need to purchase a special product to remove chlorine from your local pet store. You should choose a non-metallic, shallow water dish, and place a natural sponge in the middle to prevent drowning. Some people use clam shells, which has the benefit of adding calcium to the water. Calcium is a necessary supplement that will be discussed in the food section below.



You'll also want to scatter several different sizes and types of shells for your hermit crab to change into. They change shells because they need more room, they've just molted, or because they just need a change of scenery. Making sure they have a wide variety of shells available will keep them happy. You should never try to pull a hermit crab out of his shell either. They will often hold on to the inside of their shell, even to their death!

After you have the essentials, you'll want to make sure your hermit crab has some fun! You can place cholla wood, coral, plastic caves, chicken wire with small holes for climbing, toy ladders, and much more. Use your imagination! Some bird toys make great additions to your hermit crab's habitat, too.

FOOD

In the wild, a hermit crab will eat fruits, vegetables, and leaves. Pet hermit crabs should be fed a commercially prepared food made especially for them. Most hermit crab foods come in pellet form, and should be crushed prior to feeding, because they will not be able to grab the pellets with their pinchers. Depending on the brand, and nutritional makeup of the food, you may also need to give them cuttlebone for calcium. Calcium is needed to keep their exoskeleton strong, and is especially necessary before and after molting. Cuttlebones can be found in the bird section of your local pet store.

You should also supplement their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. For fruit, try banana, mango, coconut, papaya, and other tropical fruits. Stay away from anything acidic like oranges or tomatoes because they can be very harmful to hermit crabs. They will eat a wide variety of vegetables, including corn, carrots, and lettuce, but avoid anything starchy such as potatoes. For a treat, try a small amount of peanut butter, cooked egg, raisins, or cereal. There are many choices, but be sure to stay away from anything processed or too sugary. Treats should be limited to just a few times a week.

Make sure you remove any uneaten food from the cage every day to prevent mold and spoilage. Also check the substrate for any food pieces your hermit crab may have dragged off and buried.

HANDLING

Hermit crabs are generally not aggressive, and with some patience you'll have a lot of fun holding them. You'll want to hold your palm out flat, and place him on it. Try to keep any fleshy part of your hand away from their larger pincher. He will walk from one hand to the other once he feels safe and comfortable. Sometimes your hermit crab may get scared and grab hold of your skin with his pincher. If this happens you can do one of two things - run your hand under cool water, and he'll usually immediately release his claw, or calmly place your hand onto a flat surface so he can walk off as soon as he feels safe.

MOLTING

At some point your hermit crab will molt, or shed his exoskeleton. This is a normal part of his life cycle, but can be very stressful. It can also be very alarming to an owner who is not prepared for it. Your hermit crab will be very soft, and he should be left alone while his exoskeleton hardens. A daily misting is all that's necessary. If you have other hermit crabs in the same cage you'll want to do your best to separate them from the molting crab, because they've been known to have cannibalistic tendencies. The best way to do this is to cut off the bottom of a cleaned 2-liter soda bottle, and place the top part over the molting hermit crab. Make sure it's buried all the way to the floor of the cage, and that there is enough room for the hermit crab inside the bottle. This will keep him safe until the molting process is finished.

Hermit crabs are fun to watch, fun to hold, and can be a great companion for a long time. Make sure you do your homework, and buy the necessary equipment ahead of time to make your new pet happy and healthy. As with any pet, your love and commitment will give your new hermit crab a great home.



About The Author: Karole Dolen-Proffit is a website designer and freelance writer from Northern California. In addition to being a blessed member of a proud unschooling family, she runs several websites including http://unschoolers.com, Your Go 2 Girl, BaaadMedia!, and http://moonriverdesigns.com.

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