can hermit crabs be held?

Do Hermit Crabs Like To Be Handled?

Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Joanne Harper

Hermit crabs dislike handling because they’re prey animals that feel vulnerable and grow stressed. The good news is they can be taught to tolerate handling once you’ve earned their trust.

Never handle new hermit crabs while they’re adjusting to life in captivity. Wait for them to grow confident and start exploring the tank out of curiosity before attempting handling.

Always ensure the hermit crab is cupped safely in your hands. Hermit crabs like keeping their feet on the ground, so don’t lift them too high or pick up the shell and leave the legs dangling mid-air.

Even if a hermit crab trusts you, don’t betray this belief in you by handling them near-constantly. Keep handling sessions brief to avoid getting pinched in self-defense.

Is it Necessary to Handle Hermit Crabs?

There will be times when your hermit crabs need to be moved.

A tank requires daily spot cleaning and periodic deep cleaning, and you may occasionally need to break up a dispute between colony members. Neither situation requires prolonged handling.

To avoid physically interacting with hermit crabs, ensure their habitat has things to do. Provide toys, hiding places, and climbing apparatus. This will keep hermit crabs entertained.

The more you avoid handling hermit crabs, the more nervous they’ll become when picking them up. Gain their trust so that handling doesn’t result in stress and panicked pinching.

Do Hermit Crabs Enjoy Handling?

It’s unlikely that hermit crabs will enjoy being handled. Even if a hermit crab is scaling a wall or climbing frame, it carefully controls its movement.

View the handling experience from the perspective of a hermit crab. Your pet only knows that it has been plucked from the ground by something big (perhaps a bird!) and fears for its life.

A hermit crab pinch may break the skin, but it won’t be enough to cause a lasting injury.

Never handle hermit crabs when new to captivity because they need time to adjust to their new lifestyle. Once your hermit crabs have adapted, you can take steps to make handling more tolerable.

Training Hermit Crabs To Accept Handling

Teaching hermit crabs to tolerate handling is a gradual process. You need to earn the trust of your pets – attempting to handle them too much or too quickly will make that harder.

Follow these steps to make handling less intimidating for hermit crabs:

  • Wait for your hermit crabs to adjust. Don’t handle hermit crabs while undergoing post-purchase stress (PPS) and spending more time hiding than being active.
  • Pick your moment. Hermit crabs tolerate handling better when they’re active, usually after dusk. Picking up a half-asleep hermit crab that wants to hide is likelier to result in pinching.
  • Make the handling worthwhile. Add a blob of strawberry jelly to your finger. Many hermit crabs will consider handling an acceptable trade for access to a snack.
  • Keep the handling short. Don’t try to pet your hermit crab or carry it around needlessly. Use handling to get hermit crabs from A to B as quickly as is safe.

Again, hermit crabs are unlikely to enjoy or seek out handling.

Can You Hold Hermit Crabs in Your Hand?

If you manually handle hermit crabs, always hold them in your hand.

Don’t allow a hermit crab to run up your arm or to perch on other body parts, like your shoulder. This magnifies the risk of the hermit crab falling and hurting itself.

Never move a hermit crab by picking it up the shell, leaving the legs dangling. This will cause significant anxiety, and it may fall out. Never lift or carry a hermit crab by the legs.

Hermit crab handling

Are Hermit Crabs Safe to Hold?

Once you have gained the trust of a hermit crab, you should be able to hold it without incident.

However, always be vigilant and prepare for a potential pinch or a hermit crab to panic and try to run away. Never drop a hermit crab from a position of elevation.

How to Hold a Hermit Crab

If you’re going to handle hermit crabs, you must learn how to do so safely.

Animal Behavior confirms that hermit crabs remember painful events in their past. Mishandle a hermit crab once, and you may never get to do so again.

If you’re determined not to handle a hermit crab, follow these steps:

  1. Place a flat piece of paper or card on the floor of a tank.
  2. Wait for the hermit crab to step onto this surface.
  3. Trap the hermit crab with something solid but breathable, such as a sieve.
  4. Lift the paper and keep the hermit crab in place, quickly moving from A to B.

Wash your hands before touching a hermit crab if you prefer a personal touch. Any creams or lotions on your skin could be toxic for a hermit crab to inhale or consume. When ready, follow these steps:

  1. Place your palm as flat as possible on the tank floor – leave no skin folds free for pinching.
  2. Gently guide the hermit crab to your palm.
  3. Use your other hand to cup the hermit crab and prevent it from fleeing or jumping.
  4. Move the hermit crab to where it needs to go.

You may find that your hermit crab grips one of your fingers with the large cheliped during handling. The nervous hermit crab is just trying to cling onto something while in the air.

My Hermit Crab Pinched Me During Handling

If you keep hermit crabs as pets, there’s always the risk of being pinched. It’s unlikely to be an act of aggression but a fear response. Minimize the risk of a pinch during handling by:

  • Keeping the hermit crab as close to the ground as possible.
  • Avoiding contact with the hermit crab’s soft underbelly.
  • Keeping the handling as short as possible.
  • Only handle hermit crabs when active, not burrowing under the substrate or otherwise hiding.
  • Wearing gloves – the hermit crab’s claw may not be able to penetrate the thick cloth.

If a hermit crab pinches you, take a deep breath and continue the handling. Do not drop the hermit crab, which will likely result in injury. Do not try to drag the claw off you – this will be interpreted as an attack, and the hermit crab will pinch harder.

You’ll feel the pinch, which may bleed, but it’s likely to be more shocking than painful. Most hermit crabs will let go when you put them back on firm ground. If your hermit crab refuses to release, gently lower your hand into room-temperature water.

This will encourage the hermit crab to release its grip. Give your hand a moment to recover, then remove the hermit crab from the water before it drowns – being careful not to be pinched again.

Inspect where you were pinched once the hermit crab has been safely put down. If you’re bleeding, wash the wound with antibacterial soap. 

How Often Can You Handle Hermit Crabs?

When a hermit crab is ready to accept handling, start by picking it up once a week. Move it from its tank to a nearby locale, then back again. Teach the hermit crab that handling is nothing to be afraid of.

After a few weeks, escalate handling to two, maybe three times per week – always keeping it as short as possible. Eventually, your hermit crab will trust you enough to accept handling as part of its captive lifestyle and allow it when essential.

Hermit crabs aren’t cuddly pets, so most won’t welcome excessive physical interaction. Handling should always be kept to a minimum and only utilized when necessary.

Abide by this policy, and hermit crabs will learn to tolerate handling, even if they don’t enjoy it.