Caribbean Land Hermit Crabs (Coenobita clypeatus)
The Caribbean Land Hermit Crab is an extremely popular terrarium animal that is very fascinating and easy to keep. Despite its name, it is anything but a loner and is known to live in massive groups of up to one hundred crabs!
Since they have no exoskeleton on the back half of their bodies, hermit crabs inhabit the empty shells produced by snails and other animals. They change to new shells as they grow, but also change to shells of the same size simply for the sake of variety. It is vital that any hermit crab habitat has several empty shells for hermit crabs to change shells at any time. While hermit crabs are typically peaceful with one another, they are known to fight over each other’s shells when empty shells are not available.
Hermit crabs are tropical animals, so 75% or higher humidity is required in their habitat at all times. This, along with a constant temperature of at least 75°, is the most crucial factor in their long-term health. Hermit crabs breathe through modified gills that also allow them to breathe air, but their gills will dry up and cause slow suffocation without proper humidity. A constantly moist bedding of coconut husk and/or sand is the best option for maintaining this humidity. The bedding should be deep enough for burrowing as hermit crabs do a good deal of digging, especially during molting. Any hermit crab habitat should include a reliable humidity gauge.
Since hermit crabs inhabit many coastal areas, they require sources of both de-chlorinated freshwater and saltwater bathing and drinking areas. This can be achieved by simply providing a non-metal bowl of each in the terrarium. The bowl should be deep enough for crabs to submerge and get water in their shells, but also easily climb out of the water bowl. Rocks or small driftwood pieces can be added to the bowls to aid in entrance/exit. Hermit crabs are remarkable climbers, so secure driftwood pieces should be added to the terrarium to allow climbing. Take care to place the driftwood so that the crabs cannot climb out of the aquarium.
The best option for heating a hermit crab terrarium is a heat bulb. The many UVB bulbs sold for reptiles are excellent in providing heat and light. There are even many red and black lights for nighttime heating as well. Under tank heaters are also an option, but can sometimes be problematic with the burrowing habits of hermit crabs. If a hermit crab burrows to the bottom of its habitat, it can possibly be burned by getting too close to the under tank heater. Ideally, the hermit crab habitat should have a thermometer on the warmer basking side as well as the cooler side of the aquarium. There should be a roughly 10° difference between the warmer and cooler side of the terrarium.
Hermit crabs are omnivorous scavengers, so they are not difficult to feed. They do need a varied diet, however. A high quality, spirulina-rich invertebrate food is a good staple, but should be supplemented with pesticide-free vegetables and fruits, plain grains, and calcium such as powdered cuttlebone.
Hermit crabs are usually very tolerant of being handled, but they have the ability to pinch. When handling a hermit crab, hold your hand flat so that no loose skin can be gripped by the crab. If you do get pinched, remain calm and pour lukewarm water on the crab’s claw and it will let go. Hermit crabs are very peaceful and usually only pinch when they are frightened.
If you would like to learn more about land hermit crabs, simply do a quick Internet search and you will find a wealth of knowledge from a variety of very reliable websites dedicated to this unique, fascinating animal.
- Origin: Caribbean, West Atlantic
- Minimum Terrarium Size: 10 gallons to start, but will eventually need a much larger enclosure
- Temperature: 75° - 90° F (24° - 32° C)
- Humidity: 70 - 85%. This is absolutely essential for their long-term health.
- Diet: Omnivorous. High quality commercial invertebrate foods, dried krill/shrimp, pesticide-free vegetables (especially carrots) and fruits, nuts, grains supplemented with calcium such as ground cuttlebone. A varied diet is key.
- Social Behavior: Should be kept in groups of 3 or more. Despite its name, this crab is very communal.
- Other Requirements: Plenty of extra shells of appropriate size must be provided. Artificial and painted shells must be free of toxic paints and other chemicals. Bedding (sand and/or coconut husk) must be kept moist and deep enough for burrowing and molting. Hermit crabs require non-metal bowls of de-chlorinated fresh water and marine salt water (no table salt) in which they can submerge but not drown. Branches for climbing and cave-like hiding areas are also necessary. Commercial cleaning products should never be used when cleaning hermit crab habitats.
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