Hermit crabs have soft bodies and an exoskeleton that isn’t tough enough to protect them from getting hurt. Because of this, they need to search for shells that they can use as a shield. Since hermit crabs do not grow their own shells, many believe that pulling one out of its shell is a safe thing to do. After all, hermit crabs are not attached to these homes in the same way snails are, but they can still be hurt when separated from their mobile home.
You can pull a hermit crab out of its shell, but it would kill it. These crustaceans hold on to their shells using their uropod, an appendage near the end of their abdomen. The uropod curls inward and grips the shell from the inside. Much like the rest of the hermit crab, the uropod is soft. When trying to remove the hermit crab from the shell forcefully, you could end up tearing off the crustacean’s appendage.
Hermit crabs depend on their shells to protect themselves. Without these homes, they would dehydrate and injure their vulnerable bodies. Given how important shells are for a hermit crab’s survival, it’s best never to try to separate them. Pulling a hermit crab out from its home will cause irreversible physical and emotional stress.
What Happens If You Pull a Hermit Crab Out of Its Shell?
The shells that hermit crabs call home aren’t grown by the hermit crabs themselves. They are made by mollusks, which secrete calcium carbonite. They crystalize the material around them until it forms a solid shell. These mollusks, like snails and clams, are attached to their shells. Hermit crabs are not.
Because hermit crabs are not attached to their shells, many people believe that nothing will happen if they pull a hermit crab from its shell. However, this isn’t true. If you pull a hermit crab from its shell, one or more of the following will happen:
- Appendages will be ripped apart
- It will die prematurely due to stress
Some of these scenarios can be reversed and your hermit crab will recover. However, others are permanent. You are risking the life and comfort of your hermie by trying to separate it from its home.
Hermit crabs aren’t attached to their shells like snails and clams are. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t get injured if they are pulled out of their shells. Hermit crabs have an appendage they use specifically to lift and hold on to the shell as they move. This appendage is called the uropod.
It’s a big limb located at the end of their abdomen. If you look up pictures of hermit crabs with glass shells, you can see this clearly. The uropod curls itself along with the formation of the shell and holds tight.
If you pull a hermit crab from its shell, you will rip apart its limbs. Even if you pull gently and slowly, the hermit crab will not just slide out of the shell. Having a shell is a matter of life and death for a hermit crab.
As such, it will hold on to the shell as tightly as it can. It would rather have its limbs torn off than let go. No amount of pulling will separate the crustacean from its home. Unless you’re willing to break the hermit crab apart, you should not try to pull.
Hermit crabs are dependent on their shells. According to the Journal of Experimental Biology, hermit crabs pass the chance to inhabit a better shell just so they don’t have to be vulnerable while in the process of changing shells.
Even if you manage to remove the hermit crab from its shell without immediately killing it, it will eventually die from stress. Providing another shell for it to inhabit is not enough. Hermit crabs are extremely picky and there’s a chance they won’t want to move into the new shell at all.
Hermit crabs require their environment to have a humidity level between 60% and 80%. Their shells protect them from dry air, as well as temperatures that are too hot or too cold.
Depending on the conditions of their environment, most hermit crabs die of dehydration within a few days. Pouring water on them may keep them alive for an extended period of time. Eventually, though, the physical stress they endure will kill them.
Hermit crabs have exoskeletons, but they aren’t strong enough to protect their bodies entirely. In particular, the lower half of their body has a thinner and weaker exoskeleton. The shells they live in provide greater protection from threats and objects that can injure them. Removing them from their shell will leave an increased risk of injury.
As previously, it’s sometimes not enough to have another shell for the hermit crab to take over. If the hermie refuses to go into a new shell, it will remain exposed and possibly die of injury. That is if it doesn’t die of dehydration first.
Can I Pull a Dead Hermit Crab Out of Its Shell?
If you think your hermit crab is dead, you may want to pull the corpse out of the shell. However, you should wait.
A common mistake among new hermit crab owners is confusing the shed exoskeleton for the corpse of their pet. Owners will then extract the “corpse” from the shell, only to find out they have ripped the limbs off the hermit crab. The poor creature was just recovering from a molt in its shell.
Before extracting a dead hermit crab from its shell, consider the possibility that it’s just the old skin. When a hermit crab is dead, it will:
- Start to smell after a few days
- Fall out of its shell easily if you shake it
- Appear gray in color
Try to remember the hermit crab’s behavior before it stopped moving. Prior to a molt, a hermit crab will isolate itself from the rest of its tank mates. It will also try to bury itself in the sand.
If the hermit crab has yet to emit a strong odor, wait for 1 to 2 months. Don’t try to move it and definitely don’t try to remove it from its shell. You could end up accidentally ending its life.
How to Get a Hermit Crab Out of Its Shell Without Killing It
You should never try to get a hermit crab out of its shell. There might seem like many good reasons to do so. Ultimately, though, the best thing you can do for your hermit crab is to let it stay in its shell.
It is possible to convince a hermit crab to change shells, but there is no quick and easy way of doing it. You can present the hermit crab with a new shell and place food near it. The hermie will transfer to the new shell if it thinks it’s better than the one it has.
However, hermit crabs are picky when it comes to shells, so this doesn’t always happen immediately. You can try presenting different shells until the hermit crab transfers over to one it likes. However, this process could take weeks.
Hermit crabs in captivity will also naturally change shells just because they want to. If you need the shell your hermit crab is using as a home, you need to be patient. Wait for the hermit to change shells on its own.
Oftentimes, inexperienced people online will inform you that you can coax your hermit crab out of its shell using temperature. However, heating the shell or putting the hermit crab in a freezer until it leaves the shell is animal cruelty. Due to the temperature change, the hermit crab could go into shock. Such methods could end up killing the hermie in the long run.
What If My Hermit Crab is Sick?
If you believe your hermit crab is sick or its shell has fungi, you don’t need to get it out of its home to solve the issue. You can separate the sick hermit crab from the others and submerge it in saltwater. You can keep the sick hermit crab apart from the others until it looks healthier.
Part of why hermit crabs are such amazing creatures has to do with their ability to heal themselves. There are many issues, and illnesses hermit crabs deal with in the wild. They can solve those issues themselves by staying in the environment they evolved to thrive in.
A hermit crab is unable to heal itself if the conditions of its tank are inadequate. Instead of trying to get the hermit crab out of its shell, familiarize yourself with the kinds of illnesses these beautiful creatures usually contract. Make sure always to keep water and air parameters optimal at all times.
All in all, hermit crabs cannot be pulled out of their shells. Even if it’s physically possible to do so, it is dangerous to the creature. Instead, you should let it come out or stay in its home as it pleases.