Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hermit Crab as Pet

A few weeks ago I got a hermit crab. This is a land hermit crab, not the kind that lives underwater. The advertising and the good-hearted but under-knowledgeable people who work at my local PetSmart assured me that the "kit" they sold was fine for the raising of a single hermit crab.

Here's the kit I got. It came with the plastic container you see, the two plastic bowls inside, and a sponge about half the size you'd use for washing your dishes and the same material. I immediately added the two pieces of driftwood for climbing and bought some "substrate" which is the sand stuff at the bottom. The kind I bought is light-reactive, so it "glows" in the dark - rather for the few minutes after you turn out the lights there's a faint glow. Ah well. It came with a metal grating to suction to the back for them to climb but it had sharp edges and I didn't think it a good idea. Plus, it took up too much room. It further came with 2 really cheesy feeling shells that you'd get at a dollar store, not on the beach. I tossed those. I added a hiding log. There were no instructions what to do with the dishes or sponge so I threw the sponge in with some water and put food in the other. Turns out that is wrong and I essentially kept him from having anything to drink for the two days before I learned what to do. How many people buy these and never do further research? Loads of dead crabs I'm sure.
I picked a small crab as the housing seemed awfully small to me. Here's a close up of Not Sure, my hermit crab. If you can help me identify the variety, thank you! The name is from Idiocracy, a must-see movie.
Wanting to be a good pet owner, I went online and looked up loads of info about hermit crabs and crabitats (as their housing is called) and found that the cage I had purchased was way inferior. First off its way too small. Crabs can cover a mile at night (they're nocturnal) and like a drag racing strip to cruise along. There's no room for that in this cage. The instructions online said to fill one bowl with fresh declorinated water (I keep gallons for refilling my fishtank) and one with salt water. I didn't have that, so I went back to the store for generic crab food powder and additive for the water to make it salty. They need to bathe in each to keep themselves regulated. So where's the food go? And what do they eat and what do I do with it? First thing I learned was the substrate needs to be a few inches deep to be able to bury themselves to molt (kind of like a snake shedding skin). Check. You also have to keep the temperature and humidity at certain levels. South Florida, check. I bought little gauges to keep track. They need shells to change into. If their feet stick out of their shell, its too small. Yikes, mine already stuck out! And no painted shells, they're toxic and the paint gets into their system and flakes off, awful. So I found some awesome natural beautiful shells at Salt Water Cove (who has an eBay store) and bought them, eagerly awaiting their arrival each day. They came with some free clam shells (for putting the food in), a natural sea sponge to wet and let evaporate for humidity, and a big clam shell one to make a bath out of. Alas, I don't have the room for it yet. I am actively looking for a 10-gallon tank that is in my price range and have an ad on FreeCycle.

Know what else I learned? Despite the name, hermit crabs don't like to be alone. They're social. Sigh, PetSmart employees. But since I feel I'm nearly abusing my crab with the small living space, I won't get another until I have a bigger area for them. Then I will get no more than 3 more, based on the size of habitat I plan to have and I would like them all to be about the same size - for shell sharing and so they don't drown in too-deep bath water.

Today I was reading about how other people have made crabitats fun and workable. It sounds like a little money here and there, but ultimately once its done its self-sufficient. Just change the water and offer bits of new foods every few days. Alrighty. I was also reading about how they change shells and got to thinking that my crab hadn't changed shells yet despite I'd offered him 3 that seemed to have the right sized opening. I looked through the shells I'd bought and picked one slightly smaller wondering if it should have been in the batch and added it. I had Not Sure out on my desk while my cat, Toffee, watched intently and I held him tightly. He purred at the stimulus walking around on the desk but, being a mild mannered predator, didn't make a serious move for the crab. I put the cat on the floor and returned Not Sure to his tiny abode. I set him on the pile of shells and he immediately - and I mean IMMEDIATELY - started checking out the shiny white shell I'd added. What? All this time, I had the wrong size? Doh! Bad pet owner! I had just read that crabs will turn the shell over and over to get the sand out. It didn't mention that they stuff half their body in to pull it out with their feet too. Fascinating. Here's the before picture of him discovering the new shell, all excited like a crab at Christmas.
And here's the video of him actually changing shells. I was spellbound! Not Sure is very jumpy and easily frightened so I had to be perfectly still. I apologize for the video quality, but you can see it okay. My digital camera only has video as a secondary function, its just a perk, but since it was on my desk, I took advantage to capture my first ever shell change.

[Uploading video to Blogger was taking forever so here's your link on YouTube, which, by the way, also took forever to upload]

Here's good old Not Sure after his shell change into the pretty white shell. See how funky his old brown one was? I was so excited. Was? What's that? Don't you mean you ARE excited? No...
..after uploading the pictures, and while blogging this just afterward, Not Sure was unusually active walking around his tiny crabitat and having a salt water bath. Then the sneaky little bugger had what the Crabbage Patch refers to as "buyers remorse" and ever so quickly popped back into his old shell. Dangit, Not Sure! Maybe something about it itched him. I don't know. I do know that he's interested in a shell change, so I'll measure the one he tried on and get some more in that size for him, see if he won't change again. Good thing I was able to witness and get evidence of his shell change. Now that he's back to the old one, you'd never have believed it. Sigh.


Cassandra said...

That was so cool!! Too bad Not Sure went and changed his mind :(

Glad all is going well with you new addition!


Jennifer said...

Oh wow! I never thought about having a crab as a pet! I was thinking about getting a dog when I move home and start earning money, but I don't think my dad will allow it, but you've openend my mind to other creatures :D

Hope you find a shell that Not Sure likes. Very cool video too!

Jen xx

FreedomFirst said...

I found your entry while googling crab shells that are too small, hehe. I bought hermit crabs for my 3-year-old at PetSmart in mid-April, and like you I was appalled at the ignorance of the employees when I began to research the little buggers. I ended up buying a ten-gallon tank right away; it was really cheap at the PetSmart, only $12. The screened lid cost a dollar more. Go figure.

We currently have 4 small crabs in the ten gallon tank, and they seem to be thriving as 3 of them have molted successfully in the two months we've had them. The biggest is a stubborn bugger, and just yesterday he FINALLY exchanged his painted shell, which was way too small, for another equally small unpainted one. He must have been dropped on his head, lol. I have several larger shells in the tank but he likes the crappy small one.

All three of the others have changed shells since purchase also. The best website I found for shells was, and they have a lot of other good stuff like dietary supplements and decent crab food; not that powdered crap the pet store carries.

I'm still experimenting with substrates, but based on the information I found online from hobbyists, I currently have 6" of mixed play sand and coconut fiber, damp of course. But I should mention that the molts were all in plain damp play sand, before I got the coconut fiber to mix in.

I'll be visiting your blog in future; I'm curious to see how things go with Not Sure. That's a cool name. My toddler named his based on the way they looked when he got them, lol; so we have Blue and Straw, named for the painted shells they came in (Straw was in a Spiderman shell but he doesn't know Spiderman, and thought the web lines were straws, hehe); Strawberry, whose original natural shell was covered with little points like a strawberry; and House, who was NOT named after the TV doc. He was upset that I didn't get painted crabs the second time, and I explained to him that the shell was their house and they had to be happy with it. So he immediately named one House. Kids...