We could spend hours watching hermit crabs go about their day-to-day business. There is something fascinating about these animals. Unfortunately, this amusement tends to be one-sided. Without appropriate entertainment in a habitat, hermit crabs grow bored and stressed.
Hermit crabs need stimulation, so company from fellow hermit crabs is a must. Look to build a colony of at least 4 hermit crabs per habitat. Also, ensure they have toys that can be climbed, maneuvered, hidden in or under, or shredded and destroyed. The more your hermit crabs have to do, the less likely they are to become stressed.
You will not find hermit crab toys in the aisles of a pet store. The good news is that many everyday household items make good toys for hermit crabs. With a little creativity, you can keep your hermit crabs content.
Do Hermit Crabs Like Living in an Aquarium?
Hermit crabs are rapidly growing in popularity as pets. There is no denying that caring for hermit crabs is rewarding and entertaining. Alas, this pleasure will not be reciprocated without due care. Many hermit crabs struggle with life in captivity, finding it unsettling.
Try to see things from their perspective. Hermit crabs are taken from the beach, where they live in colonies and have vast terrain to explore. Suddenly, they are restricted to an aquarium in an unfamiliar environment. This, understandably, causes stress.
To keep your hermit crabs happy, provide as much stimulation as possible. Hermit crabs can learn to enjoy living as pets. A lack of predators, coupled with plenty to do, can be a fun way to live out their days. This means providing toys and entertainment, though.
How Do I Know if My Hermit Crabs are Bored?
The behavior of bored hermit crabs will replicate that of a stressed pet. Your hermit crabs will become lethargic and disinterested in the world around them. They will spend the vast majority of their time hiding, either under the substrate or within their shells.
This is not a sustainable lifestyle. This boredom will take its toll and increase the strain on your pets. Eventually, this will take have a negative impact on their physical health. Hermit crabs that live in a constant state of stress usually sicken and die.
It is to be expected that your hermit crabs will be initially shy and quiet. It can take several weeks for hermit crabs to destress following the transition into captive life.
How Do Captive Hermit Crabs Pass the Time?
Hermit crab enrichment within a captive environment revolves around several activities. The most notable forms of hermit crab entertainment are:
- Climbing walls
- Hanging from the ceiling
- Games with other hermit crabs, including play fighting
- Building tunnels
- Negotiating obstacles
Food is also a great way to keep hermit crabs amused. If you consistently vary the treats and meals you offer your pets, they will retain interest. Unlike some pets though, hermit crabs eat comparatively little. You cannot entertain hermit crabs with snacks alone.
Do Hermit Crabs Like to Play Games with Their Owners?
If caring for hermit crabs, accept a universal truth – they are not affectionate animals. This does not mean that hermit crabs dislike their owners. It’s possible to forge a bond between owner and hermit crabs. You’ll just need to adjust expectations.
Hermit crabs will not play with you as a puppy or kitten would. They dislike unnecessary handling, so they will not enjoy cuddling. They will not chase a ball or play fetch with you. Perhaps the best comparison is to a pet rodent.
Like hamsters or mice, hermit crabs are curious and enjoy time out of their enclosure. This can be factored into human playtime. Permitting your hermit crabs the chance to explore the wider world around them will often go down well.
If you take your hermit crabs outside, erect a barrier. If they escape the confines of your yard, they’ll likely be gone for good. Equally, watch carefully if you place hermit crabs on a table. They may fall off.
Always be mindful when attempting to interact with hermit crabs. Hermit crabs that are afraid or intimidated will not be shy about pinching you, which can be painful. It doesn’t matter if you have forged a bond. Instinct cannot be easily overridden.
You’ll also need to return crabs to their habitat before long, as they cannot breathe out of their aquarium forever. The more time hermit crabs spend in limited humidity, the more their gills dry out. This will lead to suffocation. Short, supervised playtimes are fine.
What Do Hermit Crabs Play With?
You do not need to buy anything to entertain hermit crabs. Save this expense for setting up the other essential needs of your new pets. Most hermit crabs are happy with basic household items as toys.
There are a handful of golden rules to consider when creating entertainment for hermit crabs. You must avoid anything that:
- Contains flaking paint – these chips can be toxic to hermit crabs
- Will rot or turn moldy in the heat and humidity of an enclosure
- May result in the hermit crab getting trapped or stuck
- Will break or shatter, potentially injuring the soft underbelly
Let’s take a look at the options open to you when looking to create a fun environment for your pet hermit crabs.
Other Hermit Crabs
By far the favored plaything of any hermit crab is a conspecific. As explained by Tropical Zoology, wild hermit crabs of all sizes, ages, and species live in harmony. They dwell in colonies of up to a hundred members, forging ties akin to a family.
Multiple hermit crabs that live together will amuse each other. Hermit crabs often indulge in play fighting, such as antennae wrestling or tests of strength. Sometimes, these entanglements take a more sinister turn, but this is rare.
If you keep a hermit crab alone, it will grow depressed, anxious, stressed – and, yes, bored. The hermit crab was captured from a beach with it had plenty of company and forced to live alone in a new environment. Company of their own kind makes all hermit crabs feel better.
Climbing Nets and Ropes
When it comes to solitary play, all hermit crabs love to climb. Most captive hermit crabs will spend hours scaling the walls of the habitat. Make this easier by providing nets and ropes. You can pick these up cheaply at any DIY store.
Materials used for these toys must be thick. Hermit crabs climb by gripping with their claws. Anything too thin or reedy will be sliced through like tissue. Equally though, ensure your crabs can get a sturdy grip. Material that’s too chunky may be hard to hold onto.
Provide a soft landing for any falls in the form of substrate, too. Hermit crabs may tumble from their climbing rope. Six inches of substrate will break their fall. Hermit crabs can still be dazed from the experience though. Help your pets out if they appear stuck on their back.
Water is an everyday essential for hermit crabs. These animals can be quite fussy about their hygiene. Water will be used to bathe. Water is also necessary for hydration. By submerging in water, hermit crabs keep their gills moist and breathe easier.
Many hermit crabs also like to splash around in the water for recreation. In the wild, terrestrial hermit crabs gravitate to the shallow end of the ocean at least once a day. By providing the same opportunity in captivity, your pets will feel more at home.
Consider water more than just a way to keep your hermit crabs alive. Provide a vessel that can also double up as a place to relax. If nothing else, as per the Journal of Crustacean Biology, playing in water stimulates the appetite. It helps hermit crabs smell food.
This may seem like a pointless addition to a hermit crab enclosure. After all, sand is the most popular substrate for these pets and is all around. If you use dirt or soil, that is likely because it’s the preference of your pets.
All the same, hermit crabs are passionate diggers. This can get them into trouble with their tank mates. If a hermit crab is buried under substrate, sleeping, destressing, or molting, it will not take kindly to being disturbed.
Having a designated area especially for digging will appeal to all hermit crabs. This could just be an enclosed corner of the tank. Hermit crabs are fast learners. They quickly come to realize where is safe for digging and where they will meet resistance.
Small Animal Toys
We mentioned that few pet stores will have an aisle dedicated to hermit crab peripherals. What you will find, though, is a range of toys for rodents. These can double up as recreation opportunities for hermit crabs.
Take hamster wheels, for example. These can help hermit crabs burn off energy and feel like they are traversing territory. Unlike true crabs, hermit crabs do not shuffle sideways. Their leg joints make a wheel negotiable. Just find a solid model so their legs do not get trapped.
Tunnels are also fun for hermit crabs. The ability to negotiate a habitat through tunnels will replicate wild burrowing and movement. Ensure these tunnels are wide enough to accommodate shells. No hermit crab will leave its shell to play.
Empty Bottles and Jars
Tap water is a strict no-no for hermit crabs. This fluid contains chlorine and copper, both of which are major toxins. If you do not have a water purifier, you’ll need to purchase bottled water for your hermit crabs.
If you do so, the empty bottle makes a fun obstacle for a habitat. They are light enough to move, and noisy when handled. The same goes for sturdy glass jars. As long as the glass is strong enough not to shatter, your pets can play with it.
Always keep the lids on these bottles or jars. If hermit crabs climb inside, they can become trapped. As per the Journal of Hazardous Materials, this is an ongoing concern on beach fronts throughout the world.
Hiding Places and Obstacles (Plant Pots, Hollow Coconuts and Rocks)
Hermit crabs love hiding places and privacy. This makes empty, upturned plant pots a source of fascination for these animals. You could also use a hollowed-out coconut for the same effect.
Just ensure the plant pots have been cleaned are any traces of potting soil have been removed. This mud may have been treated with fertilizer, herbicide or insecticide. All of these chemicals are toxic to hermit crabs.
If you don’t have space for plant pots of anything of equivalent size, use rocks. These should be boiled in water to remove any traces of mold, fungi, bacteria or chemicals. Hermit crabs will enjoy hiding under and climbing over them. Plastic toy building blocks can also be used.
Plastic plants are a popular decoration for hermit crab habitats. They will not contain potentially dangerous soil, and the leaves will not wilt in the heat and humidity. Better yet, hermit crabs can use them as a climbing frame.
Choose plants that are sturdy enough to bear the weight of multiple crabs. If several hermit crabs climb at once, you need to be assured the plant will not topple over. Equally, find a plant with leaves thick enough for your pets to hold onto.
If you meet these criteria, your hermit crabs will love the addition to their tank. As well as entertainment, they’ll help your pets feel at home. As per Marine Ecology Progress Series, wild hermit crabs climb trees. Plastic plants are the next best thing.
Things to Shred and Destroy
Hermit crabs are usually docile by nature. They rarely pinch with the claws unprovoked and are incapable of biting humans. All the same, hermit crabs enjoy destroying and tearing things up as much as any animal.
Avoid giving hermit crabs newspaper to shred. The ink may be toxic, and your pets cannot safely molt inside such material. Do consider applying aquatic sponges to an aquarium, though. For the avoidance of doubt, kitchen sponges are not an adequate substitute.
The primary use of sponges is to apply additional humidity to a habitat. The opinion is split as to how effective they are for this purpose. Most hermit crabs will have a lot of fun tearing sponges apart, though. This makes them an expensive toy, but a welcome one.
How to Make DIY Hermit Crab Toys
All of the items that we listed above are great additions to any hermit crab habitat. You can take things one step further, though. Rather than simply applying household objects to the tank, you could make DIY hermit crab toys for additional fun.
Here are three examples of hermit crab toys that you can create at home. You will still need to meet the basic requirements of the hermit crabs in your care. These additional ways will help your pets to enjoy their life in captivity.
Hammock for Hermit Crabs
A hammock for your hermit crabs will not be used as a bed. Hermit crabs like to bury themselves under the substrate or a rock while dozing. A hammock is a great toy, though. It gives your pets an elevated vantage point to watch the world from.
You could also place treats in a hammock. Once hermit crabs catch the scent of something tasty, they start to seek it. Making the hermit crabs work for this snack will appeal to their scavenging instinct.
Create a hammock by investing in two suction cups from a DIY store and attaching them to a wide piece of cheesecloth. Hang this in the habitat, a fair distance above the substrate. The hammock will sag when in use, and will likely be popular, so provide sufficient height.
Wooden Bridge for Hermit Crabs
As hermit crabs love to climb, it stands to reason that hermit crabs enjoy heights. Some carbs find elevated positions relaxing. It is not uncommon to find hermit crabs hanging from the ceiling and dozing. This position provides the hermit crabs with space and privacy.
With this in mind, you could build a bridge halfway – or higher – up the walls of the enclosure. This will be fun for hermit crabs to traverse. You can make this from an off-cut of hermit crab-safe wood, or even by gluing lollipop sticks together.
Just make sure the bridge is wide and sturdy enough to hold the weight of multiple hermit crabs. Where one crab ventures, others may follow. You should also apply additional substrate for padding in case your hermit crabs tumble from the bridge.
Swimming Pool for Hermit Crabs
As discussed previously, hermit crabs sometimes like to play in the water. Submerging in water can be a recreational activity for many hermit crabs. This means that a swimming pool, rather than just a bathtub, could be a fine addition to a tank.
We need to make something clear here, though. Terrestrial hermit crabs cannot swim. This means the pool should not be deep. Ideally, water should be no deeper than the height of the biggest hermit crab in the enclosure.
A long or wide body of water will be fun, though. Your hermit crabs will enjoy wandering around under the water. Provided they have an easy exit to avoid drowning, your hermit crabs will welcome this addition.
You won’t find a hermit crab swimming pool for sale, but you won’t need one. A Tupperware container is usually sufficient. Just weigh it down so your hermit crabs do not topple the pool getting in or out.
Always look for new ways to keep your hermit crabs entertained and stimulated. Although these animals do not have brains in the conventional sense, they are intelligent in their own way. Your pets will grow bored and stressed without entertainment.