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are you supposed to play with hermit crabs?

Can You Play with Hermit Crabs?

Hermit crabs aren’t like cats and dogs, but you can still play with them. You just need to loosen your definition of ‘play.’ Your job is to create opportunities for hermies to explore and entertain themselves. Hermit crabs require enrichment and will become lonely if left alone for too long. Play is one way to keep a hermit crab active and socialized.

Playing with a hermit crab isn’t like playing with other pets. You can create scavenger hunts with food, build temporary play pits, and hand-feed them. Outfitting the enclosure with climbing objects is a good option, as hermit crabs love to climb and explore. You can even allow hermit crabs to explore safe areas of the home. Regular handling sessions are also a good way to build trust and provide enrichment.

Play activities allow you to build a bond with your hermit crabs. Hermit crabs are even theorized to remember their owners. Just make sure that a hermit crab has at least one companion. These crustaceans naturally live in large groups, and are not accustomed to living alone. Keeping a group of 3-5 hermit crabs is ideal as they’ll interact with each other.

Are You Supposed To Play With Hermit Crabs?

Hermit crabs need enrichment. Keeping them entertained involves creating opportunities for them to play and enrich themselves. This may seem impersonal, but bonds are strengthened with hermies through socialization.

Just keep in mind that playing looks very different with hermit crabs. They aren’t as easy to read as a cat, as vocal as a bird, and are naturally shy creatures. Before play can happen, you need to build a degree of trust between yourself and your hermit crabs. Only then should you initiate play sessions.

Allow new hermit crabs a week or so to settle into their enclosure before trying to build trust. Moving from the pet store to a new home is a frightening experience.

Don’t allow young children to handle or play with hermit crabs. It is a natural reaction to shriek when something hurts you, and to react aggressively to the source of pain. This is precisely how a child might react to a hermit crab pinching the hand.

How To Handle Hermit Crabs For Play

Once you feel confident to do so, you can begin acclimating your hermie to the process of being handled. This should take a few weeks, with 2-3 sessions every couple of days:

  1. Lay your hand flat, minimizing the amount of loose skin.
  2. With your dominant hand, pick the hermit crab up securely by the shell.
  3. Gently place it onto your flattened hand.
  4. Be prepared for the hermit crab to grab onto you, maybe even with its big pincher.
  5. Help the hermit crab feel secure in your grip by keeping your hand level and steady.

Not doing so will cause it to grab on to you. It won’t let go until it feels safe. If it does pinch you, you should never pull your hand away until it lets go. While a hard pinch can hurt, the act of yanking your hand away may damage its pincher or arm. It may even rip the limb off completely.

Removing the hermit crab from its enclosure provides it with enrichment. This is considered ‘play’ by many owners. Handling sessions like this should happen regularly, if you want to build trust.

Still, handling sessions shouldn’t happen more than a few times a week. Even if your hermit crab trusts you, they are not creatures that enjoy excessive handling.

how to entertain hermit crabs

Do Hermit Crabs Play In The Wild?

Little research has been done on the emotional and intellectual capacity of hermit crabs. What we do know is that they thrive in groups and keep themselves busy with foraging and exploring. Unlike captive critters, wild hermit crabs have to spend a great deal of time:

  • Searching for food
  • Competing for resources

Wild hermit crabs mostly interact directly with each other when fighting over food or shells. Can any of these behaviors be interpreted as play? Not really.

Many animals play in the wild, like birds, dolphins, and elephants, have been observed playing. Although hermit crabs do well if they’re living in groups, they aren’t ones for playing.

Even still, you should understand that every hermit crab for sale has been taken from the wild. This means that hermit crabs are accustomed to spending the day surrounded by colony-mates and exploring. Even if they don’t actively play games, they still need each other to feel enriched.

That’s why hermit crabs don’t do well as solo pets. They need to be kept busy with:

  • The presence of other hermies
  • Enrichment that’s focused on climbing
  • Obstacles to explore and move around
  • New shells to inspect, swap between, and protect

A hermit crab deprived of these things will live a short, dull life. In comparison to other pets, these are easy social needs to fulfill.

How To Entertain Hermit Crabs

What do hermit crabs play with? Can you provide them with toys for entertainment outside of play sessions? How do you provide enrichment aside from handling a hermit crab? These are common questions asked by those unfamiliar with keeping hermit crabs. There are ways to give your hermies enrichment and play opportunities. These will include:

Hermit Crab Climbing Wall

Hermit crabs love to explore, and they are fantastic climbers. With this in mind, climbing nets and climbing walls are popular accessories sold for hermit crab enclosures. Outfitting your tank with a few surfaces to climb on and explore is a fantastic way to provide enrichment.

Aside from specially designed nets and climbing walls, you can also use homemade obstacles. These include:

  • Sticks
  • Sections of bark
  • Aquarium ornaments
  • Rocks

Any of these climbing experiences will see your hermit crabs clambering all over them in no time. You can even switch things up by changing the surfaces once every 2-3 weeks. That will give the hermit crabs something new to explore, and new paths to chart.

Temporary Play Pit

Hermit crabs are busy explorers. They will enjoy a hub of new items to dig through, examine, and scale. That makes a temporary play-pit the best addition to your tank. Try filling it with:

  • Sand or coconut fiber
  • A few climbing opportunities
  • A saltwater dish

This will let your hermit crabs entertain themselves for hours, or even days, without supervision. It’s also a useful tool when you need to clean the main enclosure.

A second enclosure, or a safe plastic tub, is ideal when setting up a temporary playpen. Drop in the substrate of your choice, add climbing objects, place some water (for drinking and bathing), and even food. Your hermit crabs will explore this new space for hours. The addition of snacks will have them eagerly checking out every corner for prizes.

Just make sure that a temporary play pit is located somewhere safe. Avoid placing it where other pets can interfere with it.

Scavenger Hunt

A simple way to keep your hermit crabs active and entertained is to use their food. By creating a scavenger hunt, their existing tank will become an exciting new world of treats and hiding spots.  

Scatter their food throughout the enclosure, including on top of climbing objects, and watch them begin foraging. This is a natural behavior, since it’s how wild hermit crabs find food.

Be aware that hermit crabs need a degree of moisture in the air to smell more cleverly hidden treats. Biological Sciences even found that a hermit crab’s sense of smell is tied directly to the humidity levels. Ensure that all uneaten food is removed at the end of the day. Otherwise, it might contaminate the tank.

Ways To Play With Hermit Crabs

We’ve covered how you can provide your hermit crab with enrichment and play opportunities. But how can you directly play your hermit crab?

Hermit crabs aren’t a ‘look but don’t touch’ pet, despite their reclusive name. Interacting with a hermit crab for play, or something like it, is possible. Your options may be limited, but the best choices include:

Hand Feeding

Hand-feeding is easy with hermit crabs, once you’ve gained their trust. Animals are typically at their most vulnerable when sleeping, drinking, or eating. You’ll know your hermit crab trusts you when it will eat out of your hand. It may even accept snacks while you’re holding it. Either case is a good sign. There are several ways to do this. You can:

  • Offer the hermit crab the food in its enclosure
  • Remove the hermit crab from its enclosure and leave it in your hand
  • Take the hermit crab out and place it on a safe surface

Depending on the food you are offering, it may be a better idea to place it in a teaspoon to avoid pinches. Otherwise, you can approach carefully with your fingers. Avoid any sudden jumps or jerking motions, even if you get pinched. That will startle your hermie.

Hand-feeding can be a great way to build trust with your hermit crab, especially if it’s shy. Try hand-feeding your little friend spinach or a mango cube. They will enjoy the flavor and benefit from the vitamins.

Hermit Crab Enrichment Sessions

It may not be the same as taking a dog out to the park, but you can take your hermit crabs out of their enclosure for an exploration session. These curious little critters enjoy exploring larger environments.

Free-roaming sessions are not to be taken lightly. These times outside of the enclosure must be done in a place safe for hermit crabs. This means nowhere with stairs, other animals, or foot traffic. You should also avoid carpets and rugs, as these can be full of cleaning chemicals that are toxic to hermit crabs. Tile, laminate, or wooden floors are the best surfaces for hermit crabs.

Allowing your hermit crab to explore the home is great, but these sessions must always be supervised. There are many ways your little friend can get hurt in the home. That includes accidentally being stepped on or having an object dropped on them.

Remember that they are fantastic climbers. Hermit crabs will crawl up the side of your couch if you aren’t careful. A fall from that height will cause no small amount of damage, shell or no shell.

Enjoy spending time with your hermit crabs for an hour or so before returning them to their enclosure. Make sure that there is food and water, as they’ll need it after such an adventure.

hermit crab enrichment

Do Hermit Crabs Need Companions?

Hermit crabs can become lonely, but you can only spend so much time playing with your pet. That makes a companion hermit crab the solution. Hermit crabs that live in groups are also more active.

In the wild, hermit crabs usually live in sizable colonies. If left alone, a hermie will become depressed and lethargic. Some pet stores will outright refuse to sell single hermit crabs, preferring to sell them in pairs at the minimum.

A small group of hermit crabs is ideal. Anywhere from 3-5 is a good mini-colony size. This group should be given a large number of shells. It allows them to interact naturally and gives them a chance to pick the right homes.

According to Oecologia, hermit crabs compete for empty shells. These fights are not known for resulting in grievous injury or death. Ensure that your enclosure is large enough to support the number of hermit crabs.

Do Hermit Crabs Need Play?

Play is a form of enrichment that hermit crabs need. There are a limited number of ways that you can play with your hermit crabs directly, including hand-feeding and handling. For the most part, playing with hermit crabs is actually you providing them with ways to entertain themselves.

Provide hermit crabs with climbing surfaces, exploration sessions, and the occasional scavenger hunt. That will keep your hermies active and happy. It may not seem like play to you, but your hermies will count this as enrichment.