how long can a hermit crab live without water?

How Long Does a Hermit Crab Live? (Captivity vs. Wild)

Last Updated on: 9th October 2023, 01:36 pm

The lifespan of wild hermit crabs can span several decades, with some living for up to 30 years.

Life in an aquarium or tank in a home with food and water should be much safer than in the natural world, where potential predators and threats lurk everywhere.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for humans to mirror hermit crabs’ wild environment.

The temperature, humidity, and substrate must all be appropriate, as a deficiency has severe consequences. Human residences can also contain toxins hermit crabs never encounter in the wild.

Wild hermit crabs are more relaxed despite the dangers that nature brings. Hermit crabs are social animals who are happier when surrounded by members of their species in familiar terrain.

How Many Years Can A Hermit Crab Live?

Hermit crabs that live a cautious life in the wild are more likely to survive, which is why they live in colonies of up to 100. Hermit crabs find safety in numbers.

Naturally, different species of hermit crab also have varying lifespans.

Let’s take a close look at the average lifespan of hermit crabs in the wild vs. captivity:

Average Life Expectancy of Marine Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crab SpeciesAverage Wild LifespanAverage Captive Lifespan
Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit CrabUp to 30 years1 to 2 years
Electric Orange Hermit CrabUp to 30 yearsUp to 20 years
Halloween Hermit CrabUp to 30 years8 to 10 years
Polka Dot Hermit CrabUp to 30 years3 to 5 years
Scarlet Reef Hermit CrabUp to 30 years4 years

Average Life Expectancy of Land Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crab SpeciesAverage Wild LifespanAverage Captive Lifespan
Caribbean Hermit Crab (aka Purple Pincher)Up to 30 yearsUp to 20 years
CavipeUp to 30 yearsFrom 3 to 12 years
Ecuadorian Hermit CrabUp to 30 yearsFrom 10 to 30 years
RuggieUp to 30 yearsAround 10 years
Strawberry Hermit CrabUp to 30 years25 to 30 years

Captive hermit crabs will only live as long as their quality of care allows.

What’s The Oldest Hermit Crab on Record?

The oldest hermit crab in the world reached the age of 44 before dying in 2021. The hermit crab, Jonathan Livingstone, lived in the Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers, FL.

Jonathan Livingston was bought from a seafront gift store in Delaware in 1976 and flourished in captivity. His long life was due to excellent care provided by Carol Ann Ormes.

Jonathan Livingstone enjoyed the company of Crab Kate for 35 years, so his long life wasn’t coincidental.

Carol Ann Ormes’s efforts show that hermit crabs can live for several decades in captivity.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live in The Wild?

Hermit crabs can live around 30 years in the wild if they avoid nature’s many and varied pitfalls.

The bigger a hermit crab is, the longer it’s likely to survive in the wild. A study in PLoS One found that hermit crabs with a larger body mass were more likely to reach adulthood.

Besides old age, what kills wild hermit crabs? Here are the causes of hermit crab death in the wild:


Marine hermit crabs, in particular, are constantly exposed to danger. Many species of fish feast on hermit crabs, as well as octopi.

As explained by Symbiosis: Evolution, Biology, and Ecological Effects, marine hermit crabs defend themselves by forming symbiotic relationships with sea anemones.

The hermit crabs offer a protective shell, while the anemones are toxic and deter predators.

On land, it’s easier for terrestrial hermit crabs to avoid predators. While land hermit crabs need to soak in seawater occasionally, they can stay in shallow enough water to avoid predatory fish.

This doesn’t mean the beach is devoid of risk for hermit crabs. True crabs are larger and occasionally feast on hermit crabs, while birds eat hermit crabs.

Most hermit crabs remain burrowed under the sand to avoid this outcome. Hermit crabs usually hide in their shells. If not an option, they’ll fight back with their large chelipeds.

how long can a hermit crab live without food?

Loss of Shell

All hermit crabs need a shell, whether wild or captive, marine or terrestrial. Wild hermit crabs that lose their shells are unlikely to survive.

Without a shell, a marine hermit crab is easy pickings for even the smallest fish.

The need to crunch through a shell may be enough to deter some predators. Equally, without a shell, a hermit crab has little to offer a sea anemone in exchange for protection.

On land, hermit crabs are equally exposed to predators without a shell.

If confronted by a true crab, most hermit crabs hide within a shell until the danger passes. It’s rare for a hermit crab to overpower a true crab in a fight.

Also, losing a shell leaves a hermit crab exposed to the elements. As hermit crabs are native to hot countries, a lack of protection from the sun can kill hermit crabs within hours.

Insufficient or Excessive Water

Land hermit crabs must bathe in salt water at least once daily.

Hermit crabs wait for the tide to come in, but if they can’t access water – perhaps due to predatory birds blocking access – their lives will be in grave danger.

Land hermit crabs can’t breathe underwater, so they must judge their access to the ocean. If a terrestrial hermit crab wanders too far into the sea and can’t get out, it’ll drown.

Plastic Pollution

Our oceans are in crisis due to plastic waste, with every square mile of the world’s oceans now containing around 46,000 pieces of plastic.

According to the Marine Pollution Bulletin, hermit crabs are instinctively attracted to the scent of plastic, mistaking it for food. This means hermit crabs will approach washed-up plastic on the shore.

Hermit crabs can mistake plastic for a shell and become trapped. The Journal of Hazardous Materials explains that thousands of hermit crabs die due to plastic pollution.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live in Captivity?

Hermit crab life expectancy in captivity varies wildly, depending on the care regime. If you’re cautious and avoid the potential pitfalls to a hermit crab’s life, it should live around 15 years.

Hermit crabs have a reputation as short-lived pets. Why do hermit crabs die in captivity so quickly? Whether getting marine or land hermit crabs, here are the most common causes of death:


Stress and trauma are the biggest killers of pet hermit crabs. It’s a shock for a hermit crab to be taken from its colony on a beach and expected to start a new life in captivity.

The stress of being kept in a gift shop, often in wholly inappropriate conditions, then undergoing a journey into a new home is too much for them. This is known as post-purchase stress (PPS).

Give the hermit crab time, space, and companionship to ease the transition.

Inappropriate Environment

Even if hermit crabs can overcome the stress of beginning life as a pet, many people don’t understand their complex care needs.

An aquarium/tank should be set up ahead of time with the following criteria met:

  • An aquarium no smaller than 10 gallons – larger if you’re keeping 3 or more hermit crabs.
  • No less than 6 inches of substrate.
  • Humidity of 80% for land hermit crabs to prevent suffocation.
  • A temperature of around 80°F for land hermit crabs and a water temperature between 72–78°F for marine hermit crabs.
  • Climbing apparatus and hiding places.
  • Company – hermit crabs live in large colonies in the wild.

Hermit crabs are often given to children as starter pets. However, kids must understand their care needs.

Poor Diet

As omnivorous scavengers, hermit crabs will eat almost anything they can find.

Hermit crabs like variety, rarely eating the same thing twice in 24 hours. If you try to feed the same foods repeatedly, no matter how delicious, your pets will lose interest and stop eating.

Ensure the hermit crabs receive everything they need in their diet, notably vitamins A and E, protein, and calcium. These nutrients bolster the rigidity of a hermit crab’s exoskeleton.

Unsuitable Water

Never offer captive hermit crabs tap water. Land hermit crabs need water to drink and bathe in, but tap water contains chlorine, copper, or other toxic heavy metals.

The best way to manage a hermit crab’s water needs is to use filtered or bottled water.

Land hermit crabs also need salt water, which can be produced with sea salt from an aquatic pet store. Hermit crabs need salt water to moisten their gills and avoid suffocation.

You’ll need the right saline level for the aquatic hermit crab species in the aquarium. You must also keep the water clean and at the right temperature.

Bacterial Infection

Bacteria can break down chitin and lead to shell rot in hermit crabs.

Hermit crabs flourish in a clean environment, so conduct regular spot cleaning. At least once every 1-3 days, skim the top of the substrate to remove feces and uneaten food.

If you allow food to rot and waste to linger, bacteria and mold will thrive in the tank. Deep clean the aquarium/tank around once a month to prevent harmful pathogens from gaining a foothold.

how to make your hermit crab live longer


Toxicity is a problem for captive land hermit crabs and can come from various sources. We have looked at the dangers of heavy metals in water, but you must also protect hermit crabs from fumes.

That involves not using spray cans around hermit crabs. Don’t use air fresheners, bug sprays, antiperspirants, or anything else that could harm a hermit crab’s gills.

Some sellers and owners paint hermit crab shells to add more aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately, this can be a problem if paint chips off and is ingested. Also, some hermit crabs are glued to their shells.

Impact Injury

Land hermit crabs like to climb, so provide them with climbing toys. Don’t be surprised if hermit crabs still scale the tank’s walls. They may even hang upside down from the lid.

This is recreation for hermit crabs. Just be mindful of the potential for impact injuries following any falls. Ensure a tank has 4-6 inches of substrate for a soft landing if a hermit crab falls from height.

Killed by a Fish or Another Hermit Crab

Hermit crabs harmoniously share space in the wild. All animals can fight, and hermit crabs are no exception. According to Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, conflict can grow intense.

Most hermit crab fights arise over territory, shells, or mating rights.

Reduce the risk of hermit crabs growing hostile by getting a tank of 20 gallons or more so every occupant has enough space to retreat and be alone when necessary.

Stop hermit crabs from fighting by providing a selection of spare shells in various shapes and sizes.

How To Make Your Hermit Crab Live Longer

Follow these care steps to give hermit crabs the best chance of a long life:

  • Offer plenty of living space, deep substrate, and the right temperature and humidity.
  • Provide company for hermit crabs, but ensure unnecessary conflict is avoided.
  • Prevent stress by avoiding excess handling and providing enrichment.
  • Feed the hermit crabs a varied and nutritionally balanced diet.
  • Never use chlorinated water.
  • Clean a hermit crab’s enclosure (daily spot-cleaning and monthly deep cleaning).
  • Avoid anything toxic, including painted shells and citrus tree branches.

While a hermit crab could die unexpectedly, introducing the above measures will lead to a higher quality of life and keep pet hermit crabs alive for longer.