In many respects, hermit crabs and turtles are similar animals. Both can be aquatic or terrestrial. Both live in aquariums. Both can make good pets. Unfortunately, co-housing turtles and hermit crabs is rarely easy.
Hermit crabs and turtles can live together, but the arrangement works best with the aquatic genera of both species. Ensure that an aquarium meets the needs of both animals: heat, water type, light, food, and hygiene are all vital considerations. The living arrangement will only work with docile turtles. In the wild, turtles eat hermit crabs.
If you are new to exotic pets, these two species are best kept separate. It’s all too easy to make a mistake with substantial consequences. If you understand their complex needs, co-habitation can work.
Can Hermit Crabs and Turtles Live Together?
Some breeds of turtle and hermit crab live together in the ocean. This is not necessarily a good thing, at least not for a hermit crab. Marine Biology confirms that sea turtles eat invertebrates. The diminutive size of a hermit crab makes them the ideal meal.
Turtles born and bred in captivity are likelier to be tolerant of hermit crab co-habitation. A typical pet turtle, while omnivorous, will live happily on a fresh food diet. Hermit crabs and turtles also share other similarities.
- Many genera of both species are strictly aquatic
- Terrestrial members of each species require water for bathing
- Both animals will live in a home aquarium (dry or wet)
- They are easily stressed and startled
- Both animals are considered tolerant and docile
There are just as many differences as similarities, though. Hermit crabs and turtles can live together, but it requires work and attention.
Can You Put Hermit Crabs with Turtles?
If you plan to keep hermit crabs and turtles in the same aquarium, make adequate preparations. Do not put these two species together and hope they get along.
Both animals are docile but equally easily stressed. Key considerations to take under advisement include:
- Do they need an underwater environment or dry land?
- What size aquarium is needed?
- How should this aquarium be lit and heated, and what decor is appropriate?
- How often should the aquarium be cleaned to satisfy both species?
- How will the dietary requirements of both species be met and satisfied?
- Will the two species come into conflict?
There is a lot to consider. It is worth consulting an exotic pet specialist before committing to a shared living space.
Aquatic vs. Terrestrial
Your first consideration is whether either species is aquatic or terrestrial. Of the 7 core families of hermit crab, 6 are aquatic. The same also applies to turtles. This table profiles 10 popular breeds of pet turtles, and whether they are aquatic or terrestrial.
|African Sideneck Turtle (Pelomedusa Subrufa)||Aquatic|
|Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus Odoratus)||Terrestrial|
|Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina)||Terrestrial|
|Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys Pseudogeographica Kohni)||Terrestrial|
|Red Eared Slider (Trachemys Scripta Elegans)||Aquatic|
|Reeve’s Turtle (Mauremys Reevesii)||Aquatic|
|Spotted Turtle (Clemmys Guttata)||Aquatic|
|Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys Picta Bellii)||Aquatic|
|Wood Turtle (Glyptemys Insculpta)||Terrestrial|
|Yellow-Bellied Slider (Trachemys Scripta)||Aquatic|
More pet turtle breeds are aquatic than terrestrial. They will not survive out of a water-filled aquarium, so they must be paired with aquatic hermit crabs. The crabs sold by seafront gift stores will invariably be terrestrial.
Many terrestrial turtles still need to spend a lot of time underwater. With this in mind, it is best to pair aquatic turtles and hermit crabs. This minimizes environmental stress for both species.
The other consideration that must be taken under advisement is water type and quality. Hermit crabs need saltwater to survive. Some breeds of turtles require freshwater. Ensure the species are compatible before pairing.
If you are going to house turtles and hermit crabs together, the habitat needs serious consideration. You will need to ensure that an aquarium set-up meets the needs of all occupants.
You cannot compromise on quality. Having an environment that is only half-right for both animals isn’t going to work.
If you cannot perfect a habitat for both hermit crabs and turtles, then you should house them separately. Both these species have particular needs are easily stressed. They need particular surroundings in which to flourish.
If you’re keeping hermit crabs alone, you can typically use an aquarium of around 10 gallons. If you are bringing turtles into the mix, this habitat needs to expand significantly. Both of these animals like to explore their surroundings and need space to maneuver.
For turtles that are up to 6 inches in length once grown, use a tank of at least 40 gallons. Upsize to 55 gallons for 8-inch turtles. Larger turtles should not be housed in an aquarium any smaller than 75 gallons. Upscaling to 125 gallons is advisable.
There is no harm in providing a larger habitat to hermit crabs. This provides more space for hermit crabs to explore. Just ensure they also have substrate and hiding places. Hermit crabs feel nervous when left completely exposed, especially when sharing a home.
Temperature and Lighting
Turtles and hermit crabs flourish in similar temperatures. Around 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for hermit crabs. Most turtles also enjoy this temperature, but some prefer it warmer.
You will also need to factor lighting into the habitat. Turtles and hermit crabs are nocturnal. Both species also need a day-night cycle. Failure to provide this will provoke distress and disrupted sleep-waking cycles.
12 hours of light in a tank is suitable. This can be provided by a UV lamp if necessary – keep the aquarium out of direct sunlight. Ensure this light is not illuminated permanently. If using a lamp to heat a tank at night, switch it off in the morning.
Terrestrial hermit crabs require humidity in their tank of at least 80%. This prevents the exoskeleton of the hermit crab from drying out. If a habitat has less than 80% humidity, the hermit crab is at risk of suffocation.
Land-dwelling hermit crabs typically require varying levels of humidity. Some are happy with 70%. Others will need 100% humidity to flourish. Discuss these needs with an exotic pet specialist. Ensure your chosen breed of turtle copes well with 80% humidity.
Invest in a humidity detector to keep on top of this. Use a misting spray to apply more humidity as and when necessary. It is critical to the health of both species that you maintain appropriate humidity.
Terrestrial hermit crabs and turtles still need access to water. Hermit crabs submerge themselves in water to bathe. They also store water in their shells. This is used as emergency drinking water, as well as keeping the exoskeleton moist.
Turtles also need to bathe. Turtle skin can be host to a range of bacteria. This can make the turtle – and hermit crab – sick. Both species need fresh and saltwater for bathing. Offer a choice at all times. Avoid tap water. Chlorine kills hermit crabs and irritates turtles.
Turtles and hermit crabs should have separate bathing areas. This is not just cleanliness, but also safety. As turtles are larger than hermit crabs, they need bigger pools of water. These may be too deep for a hermit crab. If a hermit crab cannot climb out of a bath, it will drown.
Hermit crabs, especially terrestrial genera, like several obstacles in an aquarium. These provide recreation, as hermit crabs love to climb. More importantly, they provide hiding places. This means a hermit crab can sleep and destress without burrowing.
Turtles are much larger. This means that obstacles can be become cumbersome and get in their way. Ensure that an aquarium is large enough to meet the needs of both animals. The hermit crab needs places to hide, but the turtle must be able to move freely.
Consider how often you’ll need to clean an aquarium hosts both species. Hermit crabs are clean and particular animals. They eliminate into their shells and often eat the evidence. Turtles, meanwhile, take a more laissez-faire approach to waste.
This can be distressing for hermit crabs. Living in an unsanitary environment can leave a hermit crab feeling anxious. A hermit crab is likely to burrow in an attempt at hiding from the waste that surrounds it.
You’ll certainly need to change the water frequently if you house these marine species together. This means you’ll need at least one spare aquarium – ideally two. For terrestrial animals, spot cleaning of the substrate should be enough. Just ensure you do so regularly.
Will Turtles and Hermit Crabs Fight?
Turtles and hermit crabs are both widely considered passive animals. Stress can change the persona of either species, though.
As we mentioned earlier, turtles eat hermit crabs in their natural habitat. Your hermit crabs will be aware of this. The presence of turtles in a habitat may cause significant stress. As per Biology Letters, a nervous hermit crab may display erratic behaviors.
This will take one of two approaches. Many hermit crabs will simply hide in their shells near constantly. This is not ideal, for many reasons. Primarily, it suggests the hermit crab is uncomfortable in its habitat. This stress can cause molting and even death.
What’s more, stressed hermit crabs will seek greater protection. This means your hermit crabs will fight over shells. This is standard behavior anyway. As explained by the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, hermit crabs are also seeking a large, light shell. The presence of a threat will magnify this determination.
If a hermit crab is ousted from its shell, it is an easy snack for a turtle. Turtles will then likely act on instinct. This can lead to further conflict. If threatened, and lacking a shell, a crab will pinch.
Some hermit crabs consider attacking the best form of defense. They will follow and pinch hermit crabs as standard. This will distress your turtles, and lead to conflict. If your hermit crabs and turtles cannot co-exist, separate them at your earliest convenience.
Can You Feed Hermit Crabs Turtle Food?
Hermit crabs and turtles are both omnivorous. This means that, technically, they can both be offered fresh food. Both species will enjoy eating fresh fruit and vegetables.
Turtles are slightly more carnivorous than hermit crabs, though. Many turtles will enjoy eating shrimp and other marine life. A hungry turtle with a taste for aquatic lifeforms may turn its attention to a live hermit crab.
Hermit crabs and turtles both eat insects, such as mealworms. Take the size discrepancy between species into account here. Hermit crabs eat less than turtles and will eat algae in an aquarium. With this in mind, focus on turtle food first and foremost.
Can hermit crabs eat turtle food from a pet store? This is available as pellets or in canned form. Hermit crabs enjoy turtle food and can feast on scraps. Be aware though, hermit crabs climbing to access food may enter conflict with turtles. This will rarely end well for hermit crabs.
If you handle the arrangements with care and attention, aquatic hermit crabs and turtles can live together. This attention is key, though. It will not be a relaxing environment for either animal, at least at first. Unless you can guarantee safety for all concerned, keep these pets in separate aquariums.