When afraid, hermit crabs hide within their shells or by burrowing under the substrate. If escaping isn’t an option, hermit crabs may choose to nip with their large chelipeds.
When first brought home, hermit crabs undergo post-purchase stress (PPS). Hermit crabs hide under the substrate for days or weeks, as a long journey and change of environment take a heavy toll.
Hermit crabs may also be afraid of handling because they don’t understand why you pick them up, assuming you’re a predator. Unacceptable living conditions, excessive noise, and bullying from tankmates can also inspire fear and stress in hermit crabs.
Hermit crabs can flourish in a captive environment, given time and the right tank setup. For this to happen, you must understand what frightens hermit crabs and avoid those situations.
Are Hermit Crabs Scared of Humans?
Wild hermit crabs have nothing to do with humans, spending their days buried under the substrate on a beach and avoiding the sun’s rays. As a result, they rarely keep the same hours as human visitors.
This lack of interaction is something of a double-edged sword for hermit crabs. On the one hand, they have little reason to fear humans or trust us.
Most hermit crabs will err on the side of caution and avoid interacting with an unfamiliar human. If nothing else, we’re considerably larger than hermit crabs.
As you can imagine, handling hermit crabs magnifies this fear considerably. Hermit crabs have no idea why we’re picking them up and likely assume that we intend to eat them.
It’s possible to gain the trust of hermit crabs in captivity, but it requires time and effort.
Signs of Scared Hermit Crabs
The signs that hermit crabs are fearful include:
- Burrowing under the substrate
- Hiding within the shell
- Running for cover within the tank
- Pinching with their chelipeds
- Urinating in your hand during handling
- Refusing to drink or eat
Shedding limbs is intended to distract and confuse the source of fear.
Why is My Hermit Crab Scared of Me?
As an owner, you’re responsible for making hermit crabs comfortable by learning the most common fear triggers and removing them wherever possible.
Here are the most common causes of fear in hermit crabs:
1/ Post-Purchase Stress (PPS)
All captive hermit crabs go through post-purchase stress.
Try to see things from a hermit crab’s perspective. The animal has been plucked from a beach and into captivity, often via a beachfront gift store that offered an unsuitable living arrangement.
PPS can be distressing to watch. Your hermit crab will burrow itself under the substrate, potentially shedding limbs. You’re unlikely to see a hermit crab undergoing PPS for several days or weeks.
Give a new hermit crab space, and it may overcome PPS. The closer a habitat mirrors a wild environment, the sooner the hermit crab will overcome its fear and begin interacting in its new home.
Unfortunately, some hermit crabs die during PPS, which is known as Post Purchase Death Syndrome (PPDS). In these instances, the stress of relocation was too much, and it could not survive the adaptation.
2/ Unnecessary Handling
It’s impossible to avoid handling hermit crabs forever. There will be times that you’ll need to pick up your hermit crabs, such as moving them to another tank to facilitate deep cleaning.
To safely handle hermit crabs, follow these steps:
- Stretch the palm of your hand, leaving no loose skin for a crab to pinch.
- Gently grip the shell of the hermit crab with the other hand.
- Guide the hermit crab onto your flat palm.
- Lift the hermit crab, still holding onto the shell., but don’t dangle the hermit crab in midair.
- Don’t panic if the hermit crab grips your skin with its chelipeds; this isn’t pinching.
- Put the hermit crab down when it’s safe.
The Journal of Chemical Ecology explains how handling can help you bond with your hermit crabs, as they will come to recognize the scent of your hand. Once you’ve earned the trust of your hermit crabs, they’ll tolerate handling.
Even when this arises, be careful about how often you handle hermit crabs, as they won’t understand why you’re picking them up and may instinctively fear the worst.
3/ Household Pets
Any other pet in the home will potentially cause stress to a hermit crab.
For example, cats and dogs may circle a hermit crab tank and show curiosity about its contents. The hermit crabs within will assume these animals are predatory.
Avian pets are no better for hermit crabs. Birds swoop from the sky and steal hermit crabs from the beachfront in the wild. Captive hermit crabs will instinctively fear pet birds.
4/ Inappropriate Environment
Hermit crabs quickly become stressed if their environment is inappropriate for their needs. You must replicate a hermit crab’s natural habitat. This means:
- Don’t expect a hermit crab to flourish alone – these social animals live in colonies.
- Providing an ambient temperature of around 80OF.
- Ensuring a humidity level of 80% – use a hygrometer.
- Provide no less than 6 inches of substrate for burrowing.
- Offer spare shells for your hermit crabs to trade.
- Provide entertainment, such as hiding places and climbing apparatus.
Food diversity is also important to hermit crabs. The Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology explains that wild hermit crabs rarely eat the same food twice in 24 hours.
If you don’t offer a similar variety in captivity, your hermit crabs will grow stressed and reject food.
5/ Excessive Stimulation
Choosing where to keep a hermit crab tank is a key component of care.
If you’re asking, “are hermit crabs scared of noise?” the answer is no. We can’t be certain how good a hermit crab’s hearing is, especially when buried.
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, noise can confuse and disorient hermit crabs.
Are hermit crabs scared of the dark? In many respects, the opposite is true. Hermit crabs prefer dim lighting, so keep a tank dark at night and avoid placing it too close to any intense light source by day.
Hermit crabs get along and live harmoniously in large colonies in the wild. This is one of the elements that should be reproduced in captivity; hermit crabs are much happier living with conspecifics.
Alas, even the gentlest animals can come into conflict. Sometimes, the fear a hermit crab feels has nothing to do with you but with another colony member.
Hermit crabs may look like they’re fighting when they are playing. They may indulge in ‘feeler fights’ to entertain themselves or attempt to impress a potential mate. Sometimes, these conflicts turn aggressive.
Reasons for hermit crabs to fight include:
- Jealousy over shells – One hermit crab may try to eject another to steal its shell.
- Territoriality – Some hermit crabs dislike sharing resources or space.
- Alpha status – Hermit crabs may battle to establish a pecking order within a colony.
- Mating rights – A female will have her pick of mates, and males compete for her attention.
As explained by Ethology, most hermit crabs remember their relationships with conspecifics in the wild. If one hermit crab is victimized by another, it’ll be afraid and stressed during its time in the tank.
In such an instance, the aggressive hermit crab should be moved. Set up a second tank and recreate the original environment with other peaceful hermit crabs.
7/ Nervous Nature
Some hermit crabs are more nervous by nature than others. If you keep multiple hermit crabs in a tank, check how they interact and behave. One or more hermit crabs may prefer to keep their own counsel.
If the nervous hermit crab isn’t being bullied and is happily eating and drinking, there’s no need to worry. Let the hermit crab go about its business, as you can’t force a hermit crab to become more outgoing.
How Do I Make My Hermit Crab Not Scared of Me?
As discussed, it’s possible to gain the trust of hermit crabs if you’re prepared to put the work in.
Once your hermit crabs overcome PPS and have gained enough confidence to venture outside their shells and substrate, maintain trust by abiding by these rules:
- Provide an environment that mirrors their natural habitat.
- Avoid handling unless strictly necessary.
- Provide a varied diet, occasionally hand-feeding to confirm that you’re a source of pleasure.
- Regularly add new shells and hiding places to the tank.
- Provide lots of opportunities to play and exercise so they don’t become bored.
It’s natural for hermit crabs to be wary of human owners at first. Although popular pets, hermit crabs were never bred to live in captivity. Thankfully, with the right care and support, hermit crabs can overcome their initial fear of humans and flourish in their new life.