It’s only natural you’d want to build a bond with your hermit crab. However, it’s not an easy process, as hermit crabs aren’t hard-wired to trust humans. Instead, it takes a significant amount of time and patience before your hermit crab starts to feel comfortable around you.
Building trust with your hermit crab requires effort. Whenever you go near your hermit crab, move slowly. Allow your hermit crab some time to adjust to its surroundings before you start handling it. Once it seems more comfortable, start picking it up 2-3 times a week for a short period of time. This will get your hermit crab used to your scent. Eventually, you can progress to hand-feeding, which indicates trust.
Don’t be disheartened if your hermit crab retains a slight fear of you. Hermies are not naturally tame animals, so this is normal. Your aim should be to provide the most comfortable environment for your hermit crab to keep it happy.
Can Hermit Crabs Build Bonds With Their Owners?
There are few studies around hermit crab psychology, so we can only rely on anecdotal evidence to understand how they feel. However, we know that hermit crabs have strong survival instincts and are hard-wired to keep themselves safe from harm. They’re tiny creatures that are low down on the food chain, making them instinctively wary of humans.
That being said, Ethology describes how hermit crabs can remember their tankmates, allowing them to build a social structure amongst their tankmates. This suggests they may also recognize humans by their scent, allowing you to build trust with your hermit crab.
How To Tame a Hermit Crab
Before you attempt to tame your hermit crab, you must remember that they are wild animals that were never intended for captivity. As such, they’ll never become cuddly pets and will retain their natural traits throughout their lives, regardless of how often you handle them.
That being said, you can train your hermit crab to be less scared of you. Hermit crabs prefer company over being alone, so with time and patience, you might be able to help your pet feel more comfortable around you and get used to your presence. Therefore, you can attempt to make your hermit crab feel more comfortable around you.
Allow Adjusting Time
No matter how well you replicate wild conditions for your hermit crab, a captive enclosure’s not the same as its natural habitat. That’s why you need to give your hermit crab time to adjust to its new surroundings before handling or attempting to tame it. The move is likely to be a stressful experience. When you first introduce your hermit crab to its new home, it will:
- Retreat into its shell
- Bury into its substrate
- Attempt to escape
- Shed a limb due to stress
- Refuse to eat or drink
- Pee on you
This means it’s scared or stressed. When you get your hermit crab home, give it space and time to get used to its new environment. If you don’t, it may never feel comfortable enough to trust you.
Pick Your Hermit Crab Up
Once you’re confident your hermit crab feels more settled and stops attempting to hide or escape, you can proceed to the next stage, which involves picking it up. This has multiple benefits, but the main one is that handling your crab encourages it to learn and recognize your scent, as the Journal of Chemical Ecology explains. Eventually, your hermit crab should learn to associate your smell with you and understand you’re not a threat.
When picking your hermit crab up, you must do so with confidence. Don’t make any sudden movements that may scare your hermit crab. Instead, move slowly and gradually to avoid startling it. This will also prevent your hermit from pinching you, which is a natural fear instinct (that hurts). To safely pick up and handle your crab:
- Lift it by the shell
- Stretch the skin of your hand tautly so it can’t pinch
- Guide your hermit crab with your free hand so that it can’t fall
- Return your crab to solid ground quickly
Only pick up and handle your hermit crab 2-3 times a week, once at a time. It’s not something you should do too often. Eventually, it will learn to trust you to handle it for a short period of time.
Hand-feeding is usually only reserved for injured hermit crabs or those that have lost limbs and need a helping hand grabbing food. However, hand feeding is also an excellent way to build trust with your hermit crab. Hermit crabs enjoy eating fruits, vegetables, and meat. There are a few ways to hand-feed hermit crabs, including:
- Give your hermit crab food while it’s in its enclosure
- Take the hermit crab out of its enclosure and leave the food in your hand
- Place your hermit crab on a safe surface
When your hermit crab readily accepts food from your fingers, you know you’ve gained its trust. Hermit crabs are vulnerable when they eat, so they wouldn’t accept food unless they felt comfortable around you.
Allow Free-Roaming Sessions
Another way to build trust and make your hermit crab feel more confident is to let it out of its enclosure for a free-roaming session. Hermit crabs enjoy exploring larger environments and benefit from getting to know their wider surroundings.
However, before you let your hermit crab run around, create a safe area that’s free from stairs, animals, foot traffic, and furniture your hermit crab can hide behind or underneath. Carpets and rugs are also potentially hazardous, as they can contain chemicals that are toxic to hermit crabs. Find an area that has either:
- Wooden floors
Leave out food and water and supervise your hermit crab while it explores for about an hour or so. Not only is this mentally and physically enriching, but it’ll get your pet used to its environment, where it’ll start to recognize the unique smells of its home.
While hermit crabs don’t traditionally play with toys like other pets, that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy some recreational time. Giving your hermit crab fun things to do will help build your bond and get your pet to trust you.
Hermit crabs love to climb. They’re constantly making attempts to escape, so distract them with fun climbing apparatus that satisfies their instincts. Safe wood makes an excellent climbing frame. They also enjoy climbing:
- Plastic canvas
Hermit crabs also love having things within the enclosure they can explore and knock over, such as:
- Plastic plants
- Building blocks, such as Lego
A mentally enriched hermit crab is a happy one, making it more open to trusting you.
How To Tell If Your Hermit Crab Likes You
It may surprise you to know that hermit crabs have several ways of telling their owners that they like them. You’ll start to notice these signs once you’ve begun building a bond with your hermit crab, and once your crab trusts you, you’ll experience them more frequently. When your hermit crab likes you, it will:
- Emerge from its shell more frequently and for longer
- Develop a healthy appetite
- Spend more time above its substrate instead of burying into it
- Look a deep, vibrant color
- Have all ten healthy limbs (without shedding them)
- Adopt a traditional sleep cycle, where it sleeps in the day and become active at night
- Remain quiet without excessive vocalizations
- Won’t become aggressive towards other hermit crabs
Similarly, once your hermit crab has begun to trust you and knows who you are, it will:
- Recognize the sound of your voice and respond when you call it
- Stop retreating into its shell when you go near
- Remain relaxed whenever you pick it up
- Stop pinching you
- Remain silent when you approach it
You can build trust with your hermit crab as long as you manage your expectations regarding the type of relationship you’re able to build. You’ll never turn your hermit crab into a cuddly pet, but you can enjoy quality time together.