Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy


Hermit Crabs on the Jersey Shore

by Robert W. Bly, founder,

To New Jerseyans like me, summer at the Jersey shore means boardwalks, rides, games, swimming, pizza, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and of course, hermit crabs.

I've been doing to the Jersey shore since I was a boy, and for as long as I can remember, hermit crabs have always been sold as a novelty. But what buyers don't realize is that, given the proper environment and care, hermit crabs can be an enjoyable and long-lived pet.

When you buy a hermit crab on the boardwalk, it comes in either a small plastic container, decorated with gravel and an extra shell, or in a vertical cylindrical cage made of plastic on the top and bottom, and wire mesh on the sides.

To enjoy the hermit crab as a pet and not a toy, move it into a suitable habitat. I recommend a 10-gallon aquarium with gravel or sand on the bottom and, just in case, a cover.

Usually when you buy a hermit crab on the shore it comes with an extra shell. The shell is larger than the crab's current shell, so when it grows bigger, it can abandon the existing shell and move into the new shell.

Hermit crabs are land animals and don't swim, but like every living thing, they need water to survive. Hermit crabs sold at the shore also come with a small piece of sponge which you soak in cold water once daily to give the crab its drinking water. In our 10-gallon crab tank, we had both a shallow water dish and a sponge.

The one problem with a glass tank is that hermit crabs love to climb. They are kept in mesh cages in stores selling them, and you will typically see crabs clinging to every square inch of the wire.

Glass walls are too slippery to climb; the crab has claws, not suction feet like a green anole. I placed the small wire cage in which the crab was sold to me in the middle of my 10-gallon tank, creating a climbing toy for the crabs. They loved it, and climbed up and down all the time.

Hermit crabs are curious and almost personable. Hold the shell close to your face (not too close; the claws can give a painful pinch). The crab will slowly start to emerge, first the eyes, then the front claws, and he will be looking right at you.

As you know hermit crabs live in shells left behind by other creatures. The borrowed shells can't grow, so as the crab molts and becomes larger, he must find another shell. You must scatter larger shells throughout the tank so your growing crabs have homes to inhabit.

While a molting crab voluntarily leaves his old shell, a healthy non-molting crab will not otherwise venture from his shell. In fact, I have heard that if you try to remove them, they will cling so firmly to the shell that they will die before letting go.

Your local fish store or pet store will sell pellet food for hermit crabs. If you run out of pellets and the store is closed, the hermit crabs will happily eat a Cheerio.

When buying your first hermit crab, buy at least two and preferably three. They are sociable and seem to enjoy company. However, the only company can be other hermit crabs; I don't think they can mix with any other terrarium animal.

With regular food and water, and occasional cleaning of the habitat, hermit crabs are a very easy pet with little maintenance. Ours lasted several years before we got bored and gave them away so we could try something else in the tank.