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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. Next time you pick up a beautiful shell, it may contain a hermit crab. Hermit crabs use shells on the seafront as condos.

It may be illegal to bring hermit crabs home from the beach, so check state laws in your 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 have a responsibility to care for it as a pet. Ensure that you know how to meet its unique needs. Life as a captive pet does not come naturally to hermit crabs.

I Accidentally Brought Home a Hermit Crab from the Beach

As hermit crabs rarely breed in captivity, 99% 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 many people on vacation. They make great souvenirs from a sun-kissed break from reality.

Wild hermit crabs use shells as protective vessels. In fact, as per Crustaceana, few shells on the beach will not host a resident hermit crab. You should thoroughly check that the shell is empty.

If you bring a hermit crab home by accident, you have a duty to care for its needs. This can take work, and the costs can start to 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 folds of loose skin. Lift the shell with your other hand and place it in your hand.

If there is a hermit crab in the shell, it will likely emerge as it’ll want to know what’s happening. Be warned that the hermit crab may pinch you at this stage. It does not understand your intentions and will be afraid.

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

If no hermit crab emerges from the shell, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s empty. 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 have brought home a hermit crab.

Is it Illegal to Take Hermit Crabs from the Beach?

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

The more pertinent question is not whether it’s illegal to do this but whether it’s advisable. As per the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, hermit crabs are an essential part of the beach ecosystem.

Many other lifeforms rely on hermit crabs as a food source or a symbiotic host. One less hermit crab in the wild may not seem like much, but it could have repercussions. 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.

hermit crabs from the beach as pets

Should I Release a Hermit Crab Back To the Beach?

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

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

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

Can You Keep Hermit Crabs from the Beach at Pets?

It’s hard not to fall in love with hermit crabs. If you accidentally bring one of these crustaceans home, you’ll likely want to keep it. Hermit crabs make great 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 deserve to live. Left to their own devices, wild hermit crabs can survive for up to 40 years.

Let’s review what you’ll need to 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 recommend the 80/80 rule: a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity that’s no lower than 80%.

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

The first tank can be 10 gallons in size. Use this as an isolation tank for your hermit crab to destress within. You will eventually need a second main tank as a permanent residence. Consider making this at least 20 gallons.

These aquariums must contain at least 6 inches of substrate. If you took the hermit crab from a beach, use sand. Play sand is fine. Do not use calci sand as this can harden and irritate the eyes and exoskeleton.

Some hermit crabs like to live in dirt. While sand is the ideal core substrate for beach crabs, consider adding some soil. Creature soil from a pet store is ideal. This additional substrate will provide additional humidity.

Helping the Hermit Crab Destress

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

To give your hermit crab a fighting chance, place it into the isolation tank. This will need to contain at least 6 inches of substrate, food, water and be sufficiently warm. Leave the hermit crab alone in this tank.

Ensure that the room is quiet and don’t attempt to engage with it. Don’t handle it. Your new pet will stay hidden until it feels ready to emerge. It can then be moved to the main aquarium.

Furnishing an Aquarium

This primary residence should contain everything a hermit crab needs. In addition to a substrate. This habitat should:

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

If you meet these needs, you give formerly wild hermit crabs the best chance of thriving in captivity. With enough care and attention, your hermit crabs will even start to enjoy their new life. 

Living Conditions for Hermit Crabs

You’ll need to take steps to make your hermit crab comfortable. Do not skip out on anything that is discussed. Doing so will cause undue stress that will likely cost a hermit crab its life.


Do not be fooled by the name hermit crab. These animals are social and love company. In the wild, hermit crabs live in colonies of up to 100. This means that a hermit crab forced to live alone will become lonely, stressed, and depressed.

If you accidentally bring home a hermit crab from the beach, look into sourcing some friends. You must keep at least two hermit crabs together. Ideally, aim for no less than 3-4. You can get hermit crabs from pet stores or online.

All the hermit crabs will need to go through the de-stressing process. Don’t worry about sexing hermit crabs, as they practically never 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 apply more humidity as and when necessary.

Hermit crabs must remain at a comfortable temperature. Add a thermometer and watch the temperature. This is especially important during periods of extreme weather. Being too hot or too cold is equally dangerous.

Keep an eye on light levels, too. 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, the hermit crabs will grow distressed. Don’t worry as these animals can see in dim light.

Food and Water

Your hermit crabs will need to eat. Exotic pet stores sell hermit crab pellets. The opinion is split on how vital these are. They certainly nourish a hermit crab with all they need, mainly calcium and protein.

Supplement a hermit crab diet with fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Sweet tastes are a favorite of most hermit crabs. Mix and match these foods daily. As per Animal Behavior, hermit crabs grow bored of the same food easily.

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

Water is also essential. Hermit crabs need two bathing pools in an aquarium. One should be filled with freshwater, but never from the tap. The chlorine in tap water kills hermit crabs. Use bottled water or a purifier.

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

The hermit crabs will submerge in these water pools, which is normal. It is how hermit crabs moisten their gills. This makes breathing easier. The hermit crabs will also store water in their shell in case of a molt.

Land hermit crabs cannot hold their breath indefinitely. You’ll need to provide easy entry and exit points from the water to prevent drowning. Plastic ramps are ideal. If necessary, build a bridge using plastic building blocks.


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

Wood is ideal for climbing. You can pick up a pre-constructed climbing apparatus from a pet store. Alternatively, gather wood from a natural location or lumber yard. Not all wood is safe for hermit crabs – ensure you apply an appropriate material.

Hiding places are also a must. Fill your hermit crab enclosure with rocks and similar obstacles. Hermit crabs enjoy climbing over, burrowing under, or simply hiding behind such additions.

accidentally brought home a hermit crab

General Health

Hermit crabs may grow sick. They are susceptible to bacterial or fungal infection, in particular. This is more likely in captivity. Thankfully, illness in hermit crabs can be avoided. 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 may also display some unfamiliar behaviors. This table explains what you should look out for:

Burrowing:Hermit crabs burrow when they are sleeping, destressing, or molting. They will emerge when ready.
Escape Attempts:This could be curiosity, or your hermit crabs may be uncomfortable in their enclosure. Ensure the habitat is meeting all their needs.
Fighting:Feeler wrestling and playfighting are common recreations for hermit crabs. If they are swiping and pinching with claws, separate the aggressive hermit crabs at once.
Hanging from Tank Roof:This is a common sleeping position for hermit crabs. Your crab likely climbed the tank for fun and now needs a nap.
Leaving the Shell:Hermit crabs leave their shell to change to a new vessel or because they are too hot. If the latter, reduce temperature immediately.
Molting:All hermit crabs need to molt periodically. This involves shedding the exoskeleton and growing a new one. Never disturb a molting crab.
Shedding LimbsThe hermit crab is stressed. These limbs will grow back during the next molt. Identify and rectify the source of stress ASAP, though.
Spilling WaterThis could be an accident as hermit crabs can be clumsy. The hermit crabs may be adding moisture to the substrate, so you should 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 they need just as much care and attention.