Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 02:32 pm
Life can be stressful for hermit crabs because they’ve been taken far from their wild habitat, kept in unfamiliar conditions, transported across the country, and thrust into life as pets.
Avoid putting new hermit crabs straight into a primary tank because this will cause them further stress. Instead, temporarily put them into a smaller isolation tank to adjust and destress.
Provide limited substrate, food, and water and give them time to adjust to their new life. In the main tank, mimic the natural habitat of hermit crabs so they feel at home.
Do Hermit Crabs Get Stressed?
Stress, also known as Post-Purchase Stress (PPS), is a fact of life for new pet hermit crabs. If you don’t take steps to protect hermit crabs from PPS, they won’t survive for long as pets.
Think about the journey the hermit crab has had to your home. It’ll have started life roaming free on the beach with others because hermit crabs are social animals who live in large colonies.
It will have been subjected to the following:
- Taken from the beach by a gatherer and put in a bucket.
- Housed in a tank, likely with unsuitable humidity and temperature levels.
- Fed a limited variety of food.
- Forced into a painted shell to add aesthetic appeal.
- Left to await sale or shipped to a wholesaler.
When hermit crabs reach their final destination, they’re cold, hungry, and dehydrated. Some are on the road to ill health or death, so they must be allowed to destress and recover.
How To Tell If Your Hermit Crab Is Stressed
The sooner you recognize stress in hermit crabs, the more easily you can remedy the situation.
Common warning signs that hermit crabs are stressed include:
- Shedding limbs. One lost leg is a warning, but losing multiple legs is very concerning.
- Hiding constantly, whether within the shell or buried under the substrate.
- Refusing to eat, drink, or bathe.
- Unprovoked aggression, whether toward tankmates or owners.
- Climbing tank walls as if attempting to escape.
When you bring hermit crabs home, provide a well-optimized living environment.
Can Hermit Crabs Die from Stress?
Stress can kill hermit crabs. While they don’t experience heart failure, prolonged unhappiness causes other severe health issues, so pet hermit crabs die within days or weeks of purchase.
A constantly burrowed hermit crab risks growing dehydrated. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how dehydrated a hermit crab was before reaching your home.
Stressed-out hermit crabs may starve to death. Given that this could take up to 2 weeks, it’s an unpleasant way to go. Hermit crabs coping with severe stress or lost limbs struggle to surface for food.
Stressed hermit crabs have lower immunity than they do when contented. Weakened immunity is dangerous because hermit crabs can grow ill in captivity, even though they don’t make humans sick.
Stressed-out hermit crabs are less likely to defend themselves from tankmates. If a dominant hermit crab attempts to take a shell, the submissive one may wearily accept its fete.
How To Help A Stressed Hermit Crab
Just leave a stressed hermit crab alone. Most hermit crabs new to captivity will initially burrow., which lasts a few weeks, but they need this time to adjust.
Set up an isolation tank before moving hermit crabs into their primary enclosure.
Ensure the isolation tank has sufficient humidity and is warm enough. Ordinarily, 80% humidity and a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit are recommended.
Steadily increase the humidity by adding moss to the tank. You can add humidity to the substrate, which should be lower than usual. If you give hermit crabs enough substrate to burrow under, they’ll do so.
Place just enough substrate to help the hermit crabs feel at home. Add small, shallow water pools for bathing because new hermit crabs may have parasites.
Over several weeks, gradually adjust the environment of the isolation tank.
Increase the humidity, temperature, and amount of substrate. Add deeper bathing pools to replicate the conditions of the primary aquarium in the isolation tank.
Eventually, you’ll be ready to move the hermit crabs into the main aquarium.
If you already have hermit crabs in the tank, they’ll help the new arrivals settle. Return the new hermit crabs to the isolation tank if there’s bullying.
Why Is My Hermit Crab Stressed?
We’ve discussed the reasons why hermit crabs can suffer from PPS. It’s not just new hermit crabs that experience stress, as resident crustaceans can fall victim to stress and anxiety.
Hermit crabs require constant vigilance to ensure that they remain happy and healthy. Despite what you may have heard from others, certain dangers are never far away.
Let’s look at why captive hermit crabs are likely to encounter stress:
Inappropriate Living Conditions
The habitat of pet hermit crabs should mirror outdoor living conditions. Failure to do so will remind them of captivity, which feels unnatural. This doesn’t mean all captive hermit crabs are unhappy.
Create the right living arrangement, and hermit crabs can be as happy as they were in the wild. That way, they’ll enjoy all the benefits without environmental threats like predators.
Maintaining the right environment can be difficult, so observe the hermit crabs’ behavior for clues.
Humidity And Temperature
The most critical elements of a hermit crab habitat are humidity and temperature, which must mimic their natural environment. An easy way to remember this is the 80/80 rule.
Get a hygrometer to measure humidity in a hermit crab enclosure.
The humidity level should be 70-80%, as it creates a moist environment that helps hermit crabs breathe. Hermit crab gills dry out in a habitat with insufficient humidity, so they’ll slowly suffocate.
If the humidity drops below 80%, use a misting spray. Also, add moss to the substrate. If hermit crabs like dirt, consider using creature soil as the primary substrate because it contains moss.
Achieve a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the hermit crabs’ enclosure. This is the upper-temperature range, but most hermit crabs like living this way.
If a hermit crab appears stressed, reduce this temperature in small increments. However, never drop the temperature below 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lack of Space
Conventional wisdom dictates that hermit crabs can live in a 10-gallon aquarium. The more pets you introduce to a habitat, the more space they need. Provide 5 gallons of space per hermit crab.
While hermit crabs sleep together, they still like to explore their surroundings. Hermit crabs are territorial, so the more space they have, the less likely they will grow distressed and enter disputes.
Food and Water
Terrestrial hermit crabs can’t live underwater because they can only hold their breath for so long.
Submersion is like a bath for hermit crabs. As hermit crabs poop in their shells, daily bathing is essential.
Provide 2 pools for hermit crabs, with ramps or climbing apparatus to aid entry and exit. One pool should contain salt water, and the other should have fresh water.
Don’t use table salt because hermit crabs are poisoned by iodine.
Get marine salt from an exotic pet store. Never use tap water for the freshwater pool because it contains chlorine and heavy metals, which are toxic to hermit crabs. Use bottled water or get a water filter.
In addition to water, consider what to feed hermit crabs to stimulate their appetites. Hermit crabs are natural scavengers, so don’t offer them the same food twice in 24 hours.
Even calm hermit crabs need hiding places, such as under the substrate or behind rocks. Despite being socially active, all hermit crabs need time to themselves.
Ensure the substrate in the enclosure is deep enough to burrow. 6 inches will usually suffice. You’ll likely find that your hermit crabs bury themselves to sleep or molt.
Smaller hiding places are also important. Even if it’s just a plastic bottle, it provides privacy. Keep caps on the bottles because you don’t want hermit crabs to mistake them for a shell and get stuck inside.
Hermit crabs are fussy about cleanliness in their habitat, as mold, fungi, or bacteria growth can harm hermit crabs’ health.
Hermit crabs dislike squalor, so they bathe regularly to keep clean and eat anything that clutters their enclosure. You’ll need to clean a hermit crab habitat regularly.
Perform daily spot cleaning to remove droppings in the aquarium. Also, wipe down the walls and conduct a deep clean that renovates the habitat every 3 months.
Boredom and Loneliness
Hermit crabs are social and enjoy living in groups. As explained by Acta Ethologica, solitary hermit crabs experience higher stress and anxiety levels.
In addition to having company, hermit crabs need stimulation in their habitat as bored hermit crabs grow stressed. Some climbing apparatus is a must because hermit crabs are natural climbers.
Providing netting and rocks to clamber over keeps hermit crabs amused for hours.
Lack of Shells
Shells are critical to the security and happiness of hermit crabs. A hermit crab with no shell will feel vulnerable and distressed, so always keep a range of shells available.
When choosing spares, select shells that match those the hermit crabs occupy.
Avoid painted shells because paints are toxic. If the paint chips, the toxins can make hermit crabs sick. Wet paint can also cause hermit crabs to get stuck in their shell.
When you add new shells, hermit crabs line up to try them. In the wild, a dominant hermit crab will get the choice of a new shell.
Once accepted or rejected, the remaining hermit crabs will trade shells.
Excessive or Inappropriate Handling
Most hermit crabs avoid human interaction because they’re unsure of your intentions. However, most hermit crabs can learn to tolerate handling.
Teach the hermit crabs that handling isn’t a bad thing. Once the hermit crabs have destressed to an extent, handle them one at a time. The best way to coach handling is to:
- Wear gloves to protect yourself from possible pinches.
- Stretch the palm of your non-dominant hand so that no loose skin is available.
- Grip the hermit crab by the shell (never the legs) with your other hand.
- Place the hermit crab in your palm, but don’t leave it mid-air.
- Offer the hermit crab a small treat.
- Return the hermit crab to its habitat.
Sometimes, you’ll have no option but to handle hermit crabs because they must be rehomed to molt, destress, or while cleaning an aquarium.
Disturbed when Molting
Young hermit crabs, especially males, molt several times a year.
Molting occurs when hermit crabs grow too large for their exoskeleton. The hermit crabs shed entirely and develop a new exoskeleton, usually when burrowed under the substrate.
Molting hermit crabs must be left alone during this process. As the hermit crab has no exoskeleton, it has no protection, which makes it feel anxious.
Hermit crabs eat more before molting to store fat, which resembles a fat bubble on the exoskeleton. Molting hermit crabs eat their shed exoskeletons and store water in their shells.
Move the hermit crab to the isolation tank while it molts. During molting, hermit crabs appreciate being kept alone. With no rival hermit crabs around, it can shed in peace.
Bullying and Aggression
Hermit crabs are usually docile and friendly toward each other. They’re more likely to be stressed when alone than in company. Be aware of mismatched power dynamics between hermit crabs.
All hermit crab colonies have a dominant and submissive hierarchy, which everyone usually respects. Sometimes, a larger hermit crab will attack a smaller hermit crab.
Watch the hermit crabs interact. Check for a reaction if many hermit crabs surround one tankmate, knocking against its shell.
If the hermit crab hides in its shell, it’s being bullied. Equally, you should intervene if a hermit crab tries to pull another out of its shell.
Place the bullied hermit crab in the isolation tank to keep it safe. It’ll still need some company, so try different tankmates until you find the right combination.
Hermit crabs remember social dynamics, so reuniting them with a bully causes further stress.
Hermit crabs can experience sickness, which could be due to toxins in the habitat. Common reasons for hermit crabs to grow unwell include:
- Fumes around the habitat, like air fresheners or deodorants.
- Toxins in paint chips from painted shells.
- Bacteria and mold on walls and decorations.
- Copper and chlorine from tap water.
Hermit crabs rarely experience sickness from food. According to The Biological Bulletin, hermit crabs also learn quickly about harmful food consumption, avoiding these foods in the future.
The leading causes of injury are conflict with other hermit crabs and falling from a height.
Hermit crabs rarely aim to hurt each other in conflict, but accidents occur. Equally, some hermit crabs are more hostile than others. A well-timed use of pincers may injure a leg, eye, or abdomen.
Falling is a hazard for hermit crabs. As mentioned, hermit crabs love to climb. If the hermit crab loses grip, it can take a tumble. Some hermit crabs get stuck on their back, dazed by their descent.
Ensure the enclosure has enough substrate to offer a soft landing. If handling hermit crabs or letting them roam, monitor them carefully. A hermit crab can run off a hand or the end of a table.
Unfortunately, mites are the bane of hermit crabs, attracted to humidity and food. Then, they lay eggs, and their numbers become overwhelming.
Mites attach themselves to hermit crabs, usually the legs, eyes, and abdomen.
Hermit crabs will attempt to rid themselves of infestation by bathing in saltwater. If this is ineffective, they may wilfully amputate their legs.
The only way to deal with a mite infestation is to sterilize the enclosure. Relocate the hermit crabs temporarily and clean the walls, floors, toys, substrate, and decorations.