The species name, “hermit crab,” is often used in generic terms. This is not ideal as there are over a thousand different types of hermit crabs. Only a tiny number of these hermit crabs are kept as pets. The vast majority live in the wild, blissfully unaware of human existence.
Marine hermit crabs live in water-filled aquariums, often alongside tropical fish. Dwarf breeds are popular due to their diminutive size. Terrestrial hermit crabs cannot breathe underwater indefinitely and live in a dry aquarium. Land hermit crabs are more common as pets, especially Caribbean hermit crabs.
Hermit crabs are not always easy, low-maintenance pets. While caring for hermit crabs is fun and rewarding, it can take a bit of work. Give yourself the best chance of success by choosing the right type of pet hermit crab.
How Many Different Kinds of Hermit Crabs are There?
Nobody knows exactly how many different species of hermit crabs there are in the world. Some sources say 800, others closer to 1,100. New species of hermit crab are regularly discovered all the time.
We know there are 7 families of hermit crabs; 6 live underwater, and the other lives above ground. All terrestrial hermit crabs belong to the Coenobitidae genus. Marine hermit crabs fall under these genera:
Can Different Types of Hermit Crabs Live Together?
Marine hermit crabs cannot live with land hermit crabs. Aquatic hermit crabs cannot breathe outside water for long. Terrestrial hermit crabs, meanwhile, cannot hold their breath indefinitely.
Hermit crabs love the company of their own kind. As per Acta Ethologica, hermit crabs left alone for too long grow anxious and depressed. This means you must never adopt a solitary hermit crab. Co-existing and getting along are different considerations, though.
Ecology explains that, in the wild, different species do occupy the same territory. It appears that these hermit crabs divide area and resources by species, though, rather than joining together to create one large colony.
Pros and Cons of Marine Hermit Crabs
Marine hermit crabs need to live in the water, which means that you’ll need to change, clean, and filter the water supply regularly. Not a problem if you have fish, as you’ll do that anyway.
There is no doubt that marine hermit crabs also have distinct advantages. These include:
- Can live with fish, assuming the tank water temperature suits all pets
- An instinct to clean a fish tank by eating algae and waste
- A docile nature means that they’ll rarely attack fish
- As per Crustaceana, marine crabs are less fussy about shells
- No smell
There are also negatives about marine hermit crabs. Potential disadvantages of bringing these pets into your life are:
- Expense, as the habitat will require constant use of power
- An inability to handle the hermit crabs
- May eat snails in an aquarium or attempt to steal their shells
- Can be clumsy and knock things into corals
Weigh up these pros and cons and decide if you feel that marine hermit crabs will improve your aquarium set-up.
Pros and Cons of Terrestrial Hermit Crabs
Let’s consider whether a land-based hermit crab will suit you better. Terrestrial hermit crabs are:
- Lower maintenance, as you will not need to manage aquarium water
- Fascinating to watch as land hermit crabs love to climb and explore
- As omnivorous scavengers, hermit crabs will eat almost anything
- Aside from occasional chirping, you’ll never hear hermit crabs
Not everything about owning a land hermit crab is plain sailing, though. Consider the following disadvantages of terrestrial hermit crabs:
- Do not like being handled to excess and are not cuddly pets
- Need to spot clean a habitat daily
- Slightly more prone to fighting, especially over shells
- Need to monitor temperature and humidity levels
How To Choose a Pet Hermit Crab
It would be best if you took in multiple hermit crabs of equal size. Where possible, aim for the same breed, but it is not essential.
- Active and curious
- Have all ten legs
- A neutral scent
- Interacting with other hermit crabs in the tank
On the flip side, avoid hermit crabs that fit the following description unless you are an experienced handler:
- Hanging outside a shell, which suggests illness
- Painted shell
- Missing limbs, which is a sign of stress
- Musty smell. This suggests the hermit crab is about to molt, and should not be disturbed
- Infested with mites
Marine Hermit Crabs As Pets
You can purchase these hermit crabs from an exotic pet store, or by ordering online. Expect to pay between $5 and $10 on average for a marine hermit crab – more for a rare breed. Here’s more info on the costs of hermit crab ownership.
Dwarf Hermit Crab (Clibanarius sp)
Dwarf hermit crabs are possibly the most popular choice. These hermit crabs are keen eaters of algae and detritus. They are also tiny enough to squeeze into all manner of nooks and crannies in search of food.
There are 4 primary types of dwarf hermit crab suitable for a marine aquarium. The names listed below should be self-explanatory. These are all based on the appearance of these hermit crabs:
- Blue Leg
- Red Tip
- Yellow Tip
Provide these hermit crabs with spare shells and enough substrate for digging, and they will cause no problems. They are docile and fun pets.
Electric Blue Hermit Crab (Calcinus Elegans)
Electric Blue hermit crabs originate from the Marshall Islands. As you may imagine, the coloring of these hermit crabs is a defining characteristic. They have bright blue legs, usually banded with black. The antennae of these hermit crabs are bright orange.
Due to their small size, they like to live in snail shells. They may attack these smaller animals for a new vessel. Bear this in mind when selecting hermit crabs. Electric Blue hermit crabs can grow to 2 inches, at which point they need larger shells.
Electric Blue hermit crabs also eat waste and algae of all varieties. These hermit crabs are unscrupulous eaters and keep a tank spotless. With these crustaceans in residence, you will not need snails.
Electric Orange Hermit Crab (Calcinus Elegans)
The Electric Orange hermit crab belongs to the same family as the Electric Blue. They are bright orange and have piercing blue eyes. They are native to Hawaii and have the same temperament as their blue counterparts.
Elegant Hermit Crab (Aniculus Elegans)
All hermit crabs are elegant, but this breed has this characteristic in their name. Aniculus elegans is sometimes called the Left-Handed Hermit Crab. This is because this breed has a larger left claw than right.
Aniculus elegans can grow to up to 3 inches, so they’re slightly bigger than some marine hermit crabs. Despite this, these hermit crabs like to reside inside snail shells. This means they may attack snails if the shell is highly coveted. Try to avoid mixing these species.
Halloween Hermit Crab (Ciliopagurus Strigatus)
The Halloween hermit crab has an unmistakable appearance. They have red and orange stripes on their legs that look like stockings. These hermit crabs are natural scavengers and will make short work of any detritus or uneaten food in an aquarium.
Ciliopagurus strigatus is among the more aggressive breeds of hermit crabs. Despite rarely growing larger than 2 inches, these hermit crabs may attack tankmates. You can minimize this risk by offering plenty of spare shells.
Do not keep these hermit crabs with small fish, and avoid delicate corals. Halloween hermit crabs are as clumsy as they are stunning. They flatten and trample on corals without a second thought.
Polka Dot Hermit Crab (Phimochirus Operculatus)
These small hermit crabs take their name from the spotty pattern on their legs. They also have a large white claw that is usually too large to fit inside the shell while resting.
These are docile hermit crabs that will leave conspecifics alone, but often attack snails for their shells. This means that you should have one form of cleaning animal or the other. If you pair Phimochirus operculatus with snails, only one species will survive.
Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes Cadenati)
Scarlet reef hermit crabs take their name from their bright red coloring. You may also see these hermit crabs referred to as Red Reef Hermit Crabs or Red Legged Hermit Crabs.
Scarlet reef hermit crabs are small (1.5 inches at most), low maintenance, and have a voracious appetite. This makes Paguristes cadenati a superb organic tank cleaner. No algae will be left to grow in a tank that contains these hermit crabs.
Perhaps best of all, Scarlet hermit crabs are hardy and cope well with living in captivity. They are also completely peaceful. They will not be interested in starting fights with fellow hermit crabs or fish. If these hermit crabs have plenty to eat, they will be happy and docile.
Staghorn Hermit Crab (Manucomplanus Varians)
Also known as the Antler Hermit Crab or Coralhouse Hermit Crab, Manucomplanus varians occupies a unique shell. Rather than a traditional shell vacated by a conspecific, these hermit crabs reside in coral. These are called Janaria mirabilis, which resembles an antler.
This means that Manucomplanus varians do not change their shells. They need special care and attention and are not suitable for inexperienced crabbers. These hermit crabs often get stuck on their back and find it impossible to right themselves.
If you do keep Staghorn hermit crabs, never pair them with stinging corals or aggressive fish. The lack of protection when on their back renders them defenseless to attack. Their delicate abdomen will be an easy target.
Land Hermit Crabs As Pets
As mentioned, marine hermit crabs are not for everybody. If you do not have a fish tank, you may be better off adopting terrestrial hermit crabs. The Caribbean and Ecuadoran hermit crabs are easy to source. Others will only be available through exotic pet dealers.
If buying terrestrial hermit crabs, avoid doing so from a seafront gift store on vacation. These animals are plucked from their beach habitat and kept in inappropriate conditions.
Blueberry Hermit Crab (Coenobita Purpureus)
They are named for their deep blue coloring, though they are often white as juveniles. These hermit crabs are native to Japan. They are believed to have formed a presence in Taiwan and Indonesia, too.
These hermit crabs are rarely found in exotic pet shops. You can find them online but expect to pay a premium. It’s rare to find Blueberry hermit crabs on sale for less than $25.
As Blueberry hermit crabs are rare, not a great deal is known about their persona or habits. With this in mind, these hermit crabs are best left for experienced crabbers. As beautiful as they are, it is always advisable to err on the side of caution.
Caribbean Hermit Crab (Coenobita Clypeatus)
From one of the rarest hermit crabs available to American crabbers to arguably the most commonplace. The Caribbean hermit crab is the default breed available in most pet stores.
You may have seen them called Purple Pinchers, Soldier Crabs, Tree Crabs, or Land Hermit Crabs. As you have probably guessed, they have a bright purple claw. The legs are usually orange or red.
You’ll find Caribbean hermit crabs in any pet store, usually retailing for around $5. They are so common that it makes it easy to pair up multiple hermit crabs in a single enclosure. This friendly, docile breed is a great starter pet for new owners.
Cavipe Hermit Crab (Coenobita Cavipes)
They are sometimes known as Passionfruit Hermit Crabs. This is because wild Cavipes sometimes use the hard shell of a passionfruit as a shell. They are native to Africa and Asia but are imported to the U.S.
You can identify a Cavipes by the eyes and antennae, which are usually bright red. This has led to Cavipes being mistaken for Red hermit crabs (Coenobita violascens) in the past. These hermit crabs usually have a purple or orange body and a stripe on the large claw.
Cavipes love to climb, so ensure you provide plenty of wood in an enclosure. They are also fussy about shells. They will typically prefer to occupy a snail shell than anything previously occupied by a conspecific.
Ecuadorian Hermit Crab (Coenobita Compressus)
These are the smallest of all terrestrial hermit crabs, rarely growing larger than an inch in diameter. Despite their size, these are considered the loudest hermit crabs, so expect plenty of chirping.
Ecuadorian hermit crabs are typically green or blue, but their color may change with age. Many Ecuadorian hermit crabs become orange but retain green legs. Do not worry if your hermit crabs change color after a molt.
You could spend hours watching Ecuadorian hermit crabs go about their business. They also move much faster than most other hermit crabs. They can escape and be hard to locate in the house.
These hermit crabs can be stubborn and insist upon retaining shells that no longer fit. This creates a risk of your hermit crabs getting stuck inside. Ask the pet store for recently vacated spare shells.
Indonesian Hermit Crab (Coenobita Brevimanus)
The term Indonesian Hermit Crab is a misnomer. Most species of exotic hermit crabs are imported from Indonesia. With this in mind, we will refer to this crab as Coenobita brevimanus from on.
The most striking visual feature of the Coenobita brevimanus is the large claw. At a glance, it almost looks too big for the body. This is a natural phenomenon in this species.
Coenobita brevimanus can be initially antagonistic to a different breed, so consider keeping them with their own kind. Also, be aware that they do not enjoy getting wet. Consider a soil-based substrate so that their feet stay dry.
Red Hermit Crab (Coenobita Violascens)
They are identifiable by their bright, fire-red antennae, are comparatively new to the U.S. They can be purchased as pets, though they are not ideal for this purpose.
Coenobita violascens can be quite a shy breed. They are even more averse to handling than most. They love to dig and bathe. An active red hermit crab will spend most time underground or in saltwater pools.
Rugosus Hermit Crab (Coenobita Rugosus)
Affectionately referred to as Ruggies or the Tawny Hermit Crab, these exotic hermit crabs are also new to American pet owners. They are native to the Pacific island territories.
Visually speaking, a Rugosus resembles an Ecuadorian hermit crab at a glance. This species comes in a wide array of colors. That’s often how you can identify a Ruggie. Unlike Ecuadorians, these crabs have one uniform shade of body and legs,
Many crabbers have taken the Rugosus to their hearts. These hermit crabs are docile but inquisitive and playful. This breed is particularly intent on trading shells, so ensure you have a plentiful supply of spares.
Strawberry Hermit Crab (Coenobita perlatus)
The Strawberry hermit crab takes its name from its striking appearance. They are bright red, with mottles that resemble a ripe strawberry. The bright eyes on this hermit crab complete a unique and appealing aesthetic.
Most Strawberry hermit crabs available to U.S. owners hail from Indonesia or Malaysia. Originally, they were commonplace in Australia. They became so popular as pets the species became endangered in the wild. It is now illegal to own a Strawberry hermit crab in Australia.
They are notoriously delicate, requiring complex care. As a result, they are not recommended for novice owners. The slightest issue with an environment can make Strawberry hermit crabs unwell.
If you do keep Strawberry hermit crabs, feed them a high-carotene diet to retain their color. A lack of carotene will cause them to fade to a washed-out pinky-white after molting.
While thousands of hermit crabs are unavailable as pets, you still have plenty to choose from. As with all animals, different types of hermit crabs have their own unique personas and needs.