In spite of their names, hermit crabs are actually very social creatures. They are used to existing in large groups in the wild; and they bond well, in captivity, with their owners, once they’ve gotten used to their new surroundings. These typically gentle creatures can be enjoyable pets, and will remain happy and healthy if we take a few steps to insure that they’re provided with a nurturing environment.
Many pet stores and mail-order companies sell prefabricated hermit crab habitats, which can be essential for health reasons. Sand, branches and vegetation that’s been collected from the wild can contain bacteria or mites that may sicken the crabs; it’s always wiser to use materials that have been selected specifically with these creatures in mind. A typical hermit crab habitat will contain the base and lid, a tray for water and a dish for food, enough sand to create a substratum, and a rock hideaway.
Hermit crabs are used to the native climate of the places where they naturally live: South America, the Caribbean, and Florida. Their environment should maintain a constant temperature of between 75 and 80 degrees. This may call for an external heat source during cold nights; direct sunlight, on the other hand, might make their habitat too hot.
Humidity is also essential to their survival. Hermit crabs breathe through stiffened gills that must be kept moist. Keeping their water dish filled with fresh water will maintain the proper humidity within their habitat. Bathing them, at least once a week, will also help to keep their gills moist and wash debris such as sand out of their shells. Bottled spring water should always be used for both bathing and drinking purposes.
Specifically formulated food (usually in the form of little pellets) is available from pet supply stores, but their diet can be varied with such foods as raisins, apple, banana, carrot, mango, unsalted nuts, crackers, and tortilla chips. Occasionally offering them bits of eggshell will give them a healthy supply of calcium.
Hermit crabs need places to retreat to in order to minimize their stress. A rock hideaway provides this, as does sand of a sufficient depth as to allow them to burrow. Rocks also enable them to indulge in one of their favorite activities: climbing.
Because they prefer social lives, hermit crabs thrive when they have a companion in their habitat (many of the commercial varieties comfortably house 2-4). However, they will still want solitary time on occasion. Loud noises and vibrations can stress them and make them more prone to hide or withdraw into their shells. Their habitat, then, should be placed in a relatively quiet place. So long as their warmth, humidity, and dietary needs are met, however, and they aren’t subject to frequent disruptions, hermit crabs can lead happy and contented lives (generally of 6 months to a year) in our homes.