Tonawanda News

March 4, 2013

Crab chronicles

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — When I was very young I had both fiddler crabs and hermit crabs. The fiddler crabs lived in a terrarium that also housed red-bellied newts and the hermit crabs lived in an aquarium that was completely


When I was in fifth grade I decided to be the first person in the world to breed fiddler crabs in captivity. I acquired a fresh batch of crabs from the local fish shop. I wanted crabs that had freshly arrived, as they live in more brackish conditions rather than freshwater. Brackish water is saltier then fresh water but not as salty as salt water. Examples of their environment are inter-tidal zones, like mangroves and some lagoons. I wanted them to be fresh because most pet stores, even fish specialty stores, keep them in fresh water rather than brackish water.

My home setup was a 30-gallon, long tank with sandy banks and three areas of water. There was the full spectrum: saltwater, brackish water and fresh water pools. In the saltwater was live algae and seaweed. I released them into their new “crabitat” and they explored all three pools and eventually burrowed themselves in for the night. I fed them and loved them for several months and eventually they all died.

Hermit crabs, for me, were quite the different story. I acquired a couple of them, gave them extra shells, a sandy substrate, not much thought and they lasted for years. They are quite hardy little animals. One of the coolest attributes is their ability to forage. In the wild they eat a wide range of food items and being able to feed them a variety was fun.

Peanut butter, sunflower seeds and exotic fruits were generally favored. Store-bought hermit crab pellets never seemed to be eaten. Hermit crabs are omnivores, eating vegetables, fruits and protein. Hermit crabs are also cannibalistic, so offering them shrimp or crab legs is not out of the question. Cuttlebones that are available for small parrots are also suitable for hermit crabs. Nuts, applesauce, raisins, trail mix, honey, cooked egg, cereal, crackers, washed grass and popcorn are some of the more popular food items on the crab menu.

Hermit crabs, despite the name, are well suited to have lots of friends in their enclosure. The name hermit is referring to one crab in one shell. The more crabs you have the more empty shells you will need, for your crabs to find a new home.

It is common knowledge that once a hermit crab grows it needs to find a new shell. When hermit crabs are born they are naked and they have to find an empty shell for protection. The shells come from snails and lucky enough for hermit crabs, snails die at all different ages and leave all different sizes and choices for the crabs to move in and try out. When snails are born they are born with tiny little shells.

The humidity of the enclosure for hermit crabs should be at least 70 percent with a temperature of 75 degrees or higher. A 10-gallon aquarium is a good starter size for a few crabs and a sandy bottom that is a few inches tall allows the crabs enough depth to bury themselves completely. Eco-earth or coconut fibers are also good choices. Play sand that has been washed is a much cheaper option, and I like the look of it in the enclosure.

Providing drinking water for your hermit crabs is something not to overlook. Most delicate critter companions require special water and hermit crabs are no different. Chlorine and other chemicals are very dangerous to these small animals, so distilled water (90 cents for a gallon) or de-chlorinated water are good choices. Every day or every other day the water bowls should be washed and dried properly. Algae and other slimy things will start growing on the bowl without standard cleaning practices. The water bowl should be low enough for the crabs to easily crawl out. If the bowl is deep, add large rocks or pebbles to act as little footsteps.

Though I believe PETA is an extremist organization, I would like to share part of their view on hermit crabs. For more information, you can visit their website, although their intense language doesn’t make it seem for kids. PETA would like to remind potential hermit crab owners that all hermit crabs, like fiddler crabs, are from the wild.

If you see a wild hermit crab on a beach in the Virginias or all the way to Florida, do not take it and make it into a pet. Although pet hermit crabs are taken from the wild, they are land hermit crabs and do fairly well under human care. If you take one from the wild, you are probably taking an ocean hermit crab, which requires very different care and will not do well in a land hermit crab setup.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.