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is it illegal to take hermit crabs from the beach?

Can I Keep Hermit Crabs from The Beach?

Beachcombing for shells is fun, but it can come at a cost. The next time you pick up a beautiful shell, it may contain a hermit crab, as they use shells on the seafront as condos.

It may be illegal to bring hermit crabs home from the beach, so check state laws in the area. Even if it’s legal, avoid removing hermit crabs from their habitat as they may not survive for long in captivity.

If you’ve accidentally brought a hermit crab home, you’re responsible for caring for it as a pet. So, you’ll need to meet its needs, as life as a captive pet doesn’t come naturally to hermit crabs.

I Accidentally Brought Home a Hermit Crab from the Beach

As hermit crabs rarely breed in captivity, 99.9% of them start life on the beach.

It’s easy to bring home hermit crabs from the beach accidentally. Collecting beautiful, unique shells is a popular pastime for people on vacation, as they make nice souvenirs from a sun-kissed break from reality.

Wild hermit crabs use shells as protective vessels. As per Crustaceana, not many shells on the beach won’t host a hermit crab. So, you should always check that the shell is empty.

If you bring a hermit crab home by accident, you must care for its needs. This can take time and effort, and the costs can mount up.

How To Check if A Shell Has A Hermit Crab

If you want to bring home an attractive shell, always check for the presence of hermit crabs.

Start by flexing your non-dominant palm tightly, leaving no loose skin folds. Lift the shell with your other hand and place it in your hand.

If there’s a hermit crab in the shell, it’ll likely emerge as it’ll want to know what’s happening. Be warned that the hermit crab may pinch you, as it doesn’t understand your intentions and will feel afraid.

Don’t panic and drop the hermit crab – pinch or no pinch. Return the shell to the sand, as the hermit crab will likely retreat into its shell at this stage. Walk away, leaving the shell where it was previously.

If no hermit crab emerges from the shell, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s empty, as the occupant may be hiding inside. Don’t shake the shell or blindly poke your finger inside.

If you’re confident that the shell is empty, it’s up to you how you proceed. If the shell starts moving, you’ve brought home a hermit crab.

hermit crabs from the beach as pets

Is it Illegal to Take Hermit Crabs from the Beach?

This depends on state law. In some territories, taking anything home from a beach is illegal. It’s reasonable to assume that you’re unlikely to go to jail for accidentally bringing home a hermit crab.

The more pertinent question isn’t whether it’s illegal but whether it’s advisable. According to the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, hermit crabs are essential to the beach ecosystem.

Many other lifeforms rely on hermit crabs as a food source or symbiotic host. One less hermit crab may seem significant, but it could have repercussions, as nature leans heavily on the butterfly effect theory.

What’s more, hermit crabs don’t cope well in captivity. Unless you’re certain that you know how to care for hermit crabs, leave them be.

Should I Release a Hermit Crab Back To the Beach?

If you discover that you’ve captured a hermit crab, you can release it in the same location you found it.

If you brought a hermit crab home, don’t leave it at the nearest beach. Hermit crabs don’t thrive in any environment, even if it looks the same to you. The beach the hermit crab came from was its home, and another expanse of sand and saltwater is unsafe.

Don’t keep the hermit crab with a plan to return it home at some point. Hermit crabs can’t flit between wild and captive life. If the hermit crab survives the transition into captivity, it’s a pet for life.

Can You Keep Hermit Crabs from the Beach As Pets?

If you accidentally bring a hermit crab home, you’ll likely want to keep it. Hermit crabs make good pets, but it takes a lot of work and knowledge to keep them happy and healthy.

Many people complain that their pet hermit crabs die within a few days. Hermit crabs are delicate, but they can live long lives. Left to their own devices, wild hermit crabs can survive up to 40 years.

Let’s look at what you should do to take care of wild hermit crabs from the beach:

Buying an Aquarium

A hermit crab tank needs to be kept warm and humid. Most owners follow the 80/80 rule: a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity of no less than 80%.

Hermit crabs must be kept in tanks with solid walls, as anything else will let too much heat and humidity escape. If hermit crabs lack humidity, they’ll suffocate. Equally, hermit crabs grow unwell in temperatures below 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first tank should be 10 gallons in size. Use this as an isolation tank for your hermit crab to destress within. Also, you’ll need a 20-gallon+ main tank as a permanent residence.

These aquariums must contain at least 6 inches of substrate. If you took the hermit crab from a beach, use play sand. Don’t use calci sand, as this can harden and irritate the eyes and exoskeleton.

Some hermit crabs like soil. While sand is the ideal core substrate for beach crabs, consider adding some soil, such as creature soil, as this additional substrate will provide more humidity.

Helping Hermit Crabs Destress

The first thing your hermit crab needs to do is destress. Being suddenly removed from a beach is a traumatic experience, so many hermit crabs won’t survive the transition to captivity.

Put your hermit crab in an isolation tank to give it a fighting chance. This must contain at least 6 inches of substrate, food, and water. Then, leave the hermit crab alone in this tank.

Ensure the room is quiet, and don’t pick it up or handle it. Your new pet will stay hidden until it feels ready to emerge. At this point, it can be moved to the main aquarium.

Furnishing An Aquarium

This primary residence should contain everything a hermit crab needs. In addition to a substrate, a habitat should have the following features:

  • Host other hermit crabs to keep each other company.
  • Have an appropriate temperature and humidity level.
  • Contain two pools of water – one freshwater and one saltwater.
  • Provide opportunities for exploration, hiding, climbing, and play.

With enough care and attention, hermit crabs might start to enjoy their new life. 

Living Conditions for Hermit Crabs

You’ll need to take steps to make your hermit crab comfortable:

Company

Don’t be fooled by the name ‘hermit crab’, as they like company. Wild hermit crabs live in colonies of up to 100, so a hermit crab forced to live alone will likely become lonely, stressed, and depressed.

If you accidentally bring home a hermit crab from the beach, it’ll need friends. You must keep at least 2 hermit crabs together, ideally 3-4.

All hermit crabs will need to destress. Don’t worry about sexing hermit crabs, as they seldom breed in captivity. Males and females can live together without incident.

Humidity, Temperature, And Lighting

We discussed the 80/80 rule earlier, but it bears repeating.

Keep humidity in the enclosure at no less than 80%. Get a hygrometer to ensure the tank meets this need. Use a misting spray to add more humidity when necessary.

Hermit crabs must remain at a comfortable temperature, so add a thermometer. This is especially important during periods of extreme weather, as being too hot or too cold is equally dangerous.

Monitor light levels, as hermit crabs are nocturnal. The circadian rhythm of hermit crabs relies on 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. If lights are on constantly, hermit crabs will grow distressed.

Don’t worry, as hermit crabs can see well in dim light.

accidentally brought home a hermit crab

Food and Water

Exotic pet stores sell hermit crab pellets, but opinion is split on whether they’re essential. Pellets will nourish a hermit crab with all they need, especially calcium and protein.

Supplement a hermit crab diet with fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Sweet tastes are a favorite of most hermit crabs, so mix and match these foods daily. As per Animal Behavior, hermit crabs grow bored of the same food.

Cuttlebone is another valuable addition to a hermit crab enclosure, as it provides hermit crabs with calcium. This, in turn, ensures the hermit crabs develop a strong exoskeleton.

Hermit crabs need two bathing pools in an aquarium. One bowl should be filled with freshwater, but never from the tap, as the chlorine in tap water kills hermit crabs. Instead, use bottled water or a purifier.

The second bowl should contain saltwater. Use filtered water and add marine salt from a pet store. Never use table salt, as this contains iodine, which is toxic to hermit crabs.

The hermit crabs will submerge in these water pools, as it’s how hermit crabs moisten their gills, which makes breathing easier. Hermit crabs will store water in their shell in readiness for molting.

Land hermit crabs can’t hold their breath indefinitely, so you’ll need to provide easy entry and exit points from the water to prevent drowning.

Plastic ramps are ideal, but you can build a bridge using plastic building blocks.

Recreation

Happy, healthy hermit crabs are active and playful. Provide your hermit crabs with opportunities to engage in these habits. Climbing, in particular, is a favored pastime for hermit crabs.

You can get a pre-constructed climbing apparatus from a pet store. Alternatively, gather wood from a natural location and bake it. Not all wood is safe for hermit crabs.

Fill your hermit crab enclosure with rocks and similar obstacles. Hermit crabs enjoy climbing over, burrowing under, or hiding behind such additions.

General Health

Hermit crabs are susceptible to bacterial or fungal infection, which is more likely in captivity. Follow these guidelines to keep your hermit crabs safe:

  • Spot clean an enclosure daily and conduct a deep clean every 3 months.
  • Remove any uneaten food before it becomes a bacterial hazard.
  • Scrape away any mold from the walls of a tank.
  • Keep an eye on temperature and humidity levels.
  • Never offer tap water.

Hermit crabs display unfamiliar behaviors, so this table explains what you should look out for:

Burrowing:Hermit crabs burrow when sleeping, destressing, or molting, emerging when ready.
Escape Attempts:This could be out of curiosity or because they feel uncomfortable.
Fighting:Feeler wrestling and playfighting are common recreations for hermit crabs. If they’re swiping and pinching with claws, separate any aggressive hermit crabs.
Hanging from Tank Roof:This is a common sleeping position for hermit crabs.
Leaving the Shell:Hermit crabs leave their shell to change to a new vessel or because they’re too hot.
Molting:All hermit crabs need to molt, which involves shedding the exoskeleton.
Shedding LimbsThe hermit crab is stressed. Any lost limbs will grow back at the next molt.
Spilling WaterThis could be an accident, as hermit crabs can be clumsy. The hermit crabs may be adding moisture to the substrate, so review the humidity levels.

You may unintentionally bring a hermit crab home from the beach. In doing so, you can keep the hermit crab as a pet. Hermit crabs may not be as common as other pets but need as much care.