is it illegal to take hermit crabs from the beach?

Can I Keep Hermit Crabs from The Beach?

Last Updated on October 21, 2023 by Joanne Harper

Beachcombing for shells is fun, but there can be hidden surprises. The next time you pick up a shell, it may contain a hermit crab because they use shells on the seafront as a place to live.

Can I keep hermit crabs from the beach? You’re usually allowed to take hermit crabs from a public beach, but always check if it’s legal because some beaches have specific collection laws.

Even if it’s legal, avoid removing hermit crabs from the wild because they may not survive long as pets. If you’ve got to make a long car journey home, it may not survive without the proper setup.

How To Check If A Shell Has A Hermit Crab

Always check for hermit crabs if you want to bring home sea shells. Here’s how:

  1. Start by flexing your non-dominant palm tightly, leaving no loose skin folds.
  2. Carefully lift the shell with your other hand and place it in your hand.
  3. If there’s a hermit crab inside, it’s likely to emerge to find out what’s happening.

A hermit crab may pinch you because it doesn’t understand your intentions. This will keep you safe.

Don’t drop the hermit crab, even if you’re pinched. Return the shell to the sand because it’ll likely retreat into its shell at this stage. Walk away, leaving the shell where it was previously located.

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

If the shell starts moving when you get home, you’ve brought home a hermit crab.

I Accidentally Brought Home a Hermit Crab from The Beach

Hermit crabs rarely breed in captivity, with about 99.9% starting life in the wild.

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

Wild hermit crabs use shells as protective vessels. According to Crustaceana, few shells on the beach won’t host a hermit crab. This means that you must always check the shell is empty.

If you accidentally bring a hermit crab home from the beach, you must meet its basic care needs. This can take time and effort, and the costs can be higher than you think.

hermit crabs from the beach as pets

Is it Illegal to Take Hermit Crabs from the Beach?

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 from the beach.

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 ecosystem.

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.

Moreover, hermit crabs seldom cope well in captivity, enduring significant stress. Leave them be unless you know how to care for hermit crabs or genuinely desire to learn how to care for them.

Should I Release a Hermit Crab Back To the Beach?

If you’ve captured a hermit crab, you can release it in the same location you caught it. Don’t leave a hermit crab at the nearest beach, assuming everything will be okay.

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 was 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 can make good pets, but keeping them happy and healthy takes knowledge and effort.

Many people complain that their pet hermit crabs die within a few days. Hermit crabs are vulnerable animals, but they can live long lives. 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 A Tank

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

Hermit crabs must be kept in tanks with solid walls (with sufficient breathing holes), as anything else will allow too much heat and humidity to escape.

If hermit crabs lack enough humidity, they’ll suffocate and perish. Equally, hermit crabs grow unwell in temperatures below 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

A tank needs at least 6 inches of substrate. If you took the hermit crab from the beach, use play sand. Don’t use calci sand because it can harden and irritate the eyes and damage the exoskeleton.

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

Helping Hermit Crabs Destress

Hermit crabs must destress. Being suddenly removed from a beach is a traumatic experience, so many hermit crabs won’t survive the transition to captivity.

Put the hermit crab in an isolation tank to give it the best chance of survival. 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 at this stage. Your new pet will stay hidden until it feels ready to emerge. At this point, it can be moved to the main aquarium to join others.

Furnishing A Tank

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

  • Host other hermit crabs for company.
  • Contain sand for burrowing.
  • 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 due care and attention, hermit crabs can enjoy their new life.

Living Conditions for Hermit Crabs

You’ll need to make your hermit crabs comfortable by doing the following:


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 4-5.

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

Humidity, Temperature, And Lighting

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

Hermit crabs must remain at a comfortable temperature, so use a thermometer. This is important during extreme weather, as being too hot or cold is dangerous. Hermit crabs are ectothermic animals.

Monitor light levels because 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.

Food and Water

Hermit crabs thrive on a diet of fruits, vegetables, and plants.

Sweet tastes are a favorite of most hermit crabs, so mix and match these foods daily. According to Animal Behavior, hermit crabs grow bored when fed the same food twice in 24 hours.

Cuttlebone is a valuable addition to a hermit crab enclosure, providing hermit crabs with calcium. This ensures that hermit crabs can develop a healthy and robust exoskeleton.

Hermit crabs need two shallow bathing pools in a tank. One bowl should be filled with fresh water, but never from the tap, as chlorine kills hermit crabs. Instead, use bottled or purified water.

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

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

Land hermit crabs can’t hold their breath indefinitely, so you must provide easy entry and exit points from the water to prevent drowning. Plastic ramps are ideal, but you can build a bridge with building blocks.

accidentally brought home a hermit crab


Happy, healthy hermit crabs are active and playful animals. Provide your hermit crabs with opportunities to engage in the things they enjoy. Climbing 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. It must also be sterilized to prevent the introduction of harmful substances and bugs.

Add small rocks, logs, and obstacles to the hermit crab enclosure. They greatly enjoy climbing over, burrowing under, or hiding behind different objects.

Ensure that a range of shells is always available in the tank. As hermit crabs grow or shells become damaged, they switch to better options. Shells can be a source of hermit crab conflict.

General Health

Hermit crabs are susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, which are more likely in captivity. Follow these guidelines to keep hermit crabs safe:

  • Spot-clean the tank daily and conduct a deep clean every 1-3 months.
  • Clean mold off the walls of the tank.
  • Remove uneaten food (especially fruit and vegetables) before it goes bad.
  • Monitor temperature and humidity levels to ensure they’re optimal.
  • Never offer tap water because it contains chlorine, which is toxic to hermit crabs. It can cause the gills to become blistered and lead to suffocation.
  • Hermit crabs are nocturnal animals, so you may not see them until after dark. If a hermit crab won’t come out of its shell, don’t try to force it to emerge.
  • Avoid handling until the hermit crabs have adjusted to your presence and life in captivity. Hermit crabs are at the bottom of the food chain, meaning they get scared easily.
  • Never provide painted hermit crab shells.

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

Burrowing:Hermit crabs burrow when sleeping, destressing, or molting.
Escape Attempts:This could be out of curiosity or because they feel uncomfortable. Here’s some advice on finding an escaped hermit crab.
Fighting:Feeler wrestling and playfighting are recreational 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 evacuate their shells for new vessels or because they’re too hot.
Molting:All hermit crabs must molt, which involves shedding the exoskeleton.
Shedding LimbsThe hermit crab is stressed or injured. Lost limbs will grow back at the next molt.
Spilling WaterThe hermit crabs could have added moisture to the substrate, so review the humidity levels. It could also be an accident because hermit crabs are clumsy.

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 aren’t as common as other pets but need specialist care.