how to take care of purple pincher hermit crabs

Purple Pincher Hermit Crab Care Guide (Tank Setup + Diet Plan)

Last Updated on October 13, 2023 by Joanne Harper

Caribbean hermit crabs (Coenobita clypeatus) go by many names, including the soldier crab, the tree crab, and the West Atlantic crab.

The most common nickname is the purple pincher due to the distinctive color of the large left cheliped.

The purple pincher is omnipresent in beachfront gift stores as proprietors trawl the local beaches at night, catching hermit crabs and making them available for sale.

Some gift shop owners force hermit crabs into painted shells to make them more aesthetically appealing to children. However, painted shells are toxic to hermit crabs and should be avoided.

If you prefer to get purple pinchers elsewhere, you can find them for sale online for £10. Only buy them from exotic pet vendors that offer a live arrival guarantee.

Can Several Purple Pinchers Live Together?

Purple pinchers should live in groups, as one hermit crab living alone will grow distressed. Two hermit crabs can make a life together in captivity, but consider taking on 4 or 5 if you have the capacity.

You may also consider housing purple pinchers with other breeds of hermit crabs.

The Ecuadorian hermit crab is the second most popular in the U.S., but be aware that purple pinchers are considerably larger and intimidating to an Ecuadorian.

Hermit crabs, especially purple pinchers, never breed while in captivity. This means you won’t need to determine genders and separate hermit crabs.

Purple punchers usually live together in a harmonious colony, but exceptions exist. Hermit crabs rarely attack each other, but it happens.

What does a Caribbean hermit crab eat?

How Big Do Purple Pincher Hermit Crabs Get?

Purple pinchers are among the larger breeds of common hermit crabs.

These hermit crabs will grow every time they molt. On average, expect a healthy adult purple pincher to reach the approximate size of a baseball.

How Long Do Purple Pincher Hermit Crabs Live in Captivity?

If you care for your purple pinchers well, you should enjoy their company for a decade or longer. There have been instances of purple pinchers living in captivity for 30-40 years.

Caribbean hermit crabs undergo intense stress when first entering captivity. If not left to adapt at its own pace, your purple pincher may not survive longer than a few weeks.

If you can guide your purple pincher through post-purchase syndrome (PPS), you’ll still need to meet its lifestyle needs to ensure it lives a long and contented life.

How to Take Care of Purple Pincher Hermit Crabs

Purple pinchers have unique and complex needs, so you must understand the commitment before bringing them into your home. This includes the following:

Tank Size

The tank size for purple pinchers depends on how many you’re housing together. As hermit crabs prefer to live in groups, you must increase the habitat size depending on the colony’s numbers.

The smallest tank size anybody can consider for hermit crabs is 10 gallons. This will be okay for 4-5 purple pinchers, assuming you provide appropriate substrate and climbing opportunities.

If you wish to keep more hermit crabs, upgrade the tank size to at least 20 gallons. This will allow each occupant to claim territory, minimizing the risk of conflict.

You should also have a spare tank. You can use this aquarium to quarantine a sick or molting hermit crab that craves privacy or to temporarily rehome your pets while you deep clean their primary tank.

Habitat Environment

The key to providing the right environment for hermit crabs is matching their natural habitat as closely as possible. The fundamentals of this include temperature and humidity in a tank.

A hermit crab habitat should always be heated to between 72–84OF. Any cooler than this, your purple pinchers will become lethargic and hide, and their lives are in danger.

You’ll also need to ensure the habitat maintains a humidity level of 80%. Hermit crabs rely on humidity to keep their gills moist, which is critical to breathing. Invest in a hygrometer to check humidity levels, misting a habitat to increase moisture if necessary. 


One of the most critical components of hermit crab care is the substrate that lines the tank. Purple pinchers can live in sand or dry, hard soil.

Purple pinchers love to climb and burrow, so they’ll need lots of substrate. Offer at least six inches of coverage so your hermit crabs can hide under the sand during the day.

A deeper substrate will also offer a cushioned landing if they fall from the roof of a habitat.


Purple pinchers are nocturnal and only need dim light to see. Placing too much illumination in a habitat will cause your hermit crabs distress, possibly severing their eye stalks.

Be aware of electrical cables if you place lights in a hermit crab habitat. Purple pinchers are curious and playful and may cut cords with their pinchers or get caught up in them.

As Modern Psychological Studies explains, purple pinchers respond differently to varying lighting hues. Blue light stimulates hunger, while red light can make them more active.


Part of mirroring the natural habitat of the purple pincher is filling a tank with appropriate décor. Your pets will enjoy being surrounded by non-toxic plants in their wild surroundings.

Rocks are also a good addition because hermit crabs are naturally shy and will spend time hiding. Rocks allow purple pinchers to hide without burrowing under the substrate.

As discussed, purple pinchers are also keen climbers. Allowing your hermit crabs to indulge in this instinct will keep them happy and stave off boredom.

Place climbing frames and nets in a tank. As per the Journal of Ethology, climbing also allows hermit crabs to escape confrontation where necessary.


Any hermit crab habitat, including one populated by purple pinchers, must offer a variety of spare shells. Every time a hermit crab molts, it grows in size. After the molt is complete, the hermit crab will likely need a new shell as it outgrew its previous vessel.

Hermit crabs also change shells if an existing home is cracked or damaged. Given the purple pincher’s propensity for climbing, this is always a risk.


In addition to your purple pincher hermit crab’s tank setup, you must consider food and diet.

Captive purple pinchers can’t scavenge for food like they would in the wild. They rely on you to feed them, ensuring all nutritional needs are met and preferences are catered for.

Hermit crabs eat once daily, typically around dusk when they wake up. Like all hermit crabs, purple pinchers detect food through the antennae. If you mist a habitat immediately before laying down strong-smelling food, your hermit crabs will come to investigate.


Hermit crab pellets purchased from an exotic pet store will give purple pinchers some nutrition they need. In reality, your pets are unlikely to enjoy this source of sustenance.

Pellets carry no scent, so hermit crabs are unlikely to respond to them. More importantly, hermit crabs are scavengers in the wild. This means they’re used to a varied diet, eating different foods.

As Animal Behavior explains, by feeding purple pinchers the same food daily, especially pellets, they’ll quickly grow bored and refuse to eat.

purple pincher hermit crab tank setup

Fruit and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables, especially those with a sweet scent and taste, are a crucial dietary component. Purple pinchers will gleefully accept many fruits and vegetables, even if they’re past their best.

Remove uneaten fruit and vegetables from a hermit crab enclosure at the end of a feeding session, as waste can attract mold or bacteria.

Vary the fruits and vegetables you offer daily, focusing on ingredients high in calcium and antioxidants.

Meat and Dairy

Hermit crabs rely on calcium to remain healthy. This mineral encourages them to grow and maintain a robust and sturdy exoskeleton—pair calcium with protein-rich foods for maximum health.

Eggs and meat are the best ways to provide protein to purple pinchers. Hermit crabs don’t have teeth, so cutting the meat into small, bite-sized chunks can be lifted by the chelipeds.


Add cuttlebone to a purple pincher’s habitat. This additional resource provides hermit crabs with essential calcium, creating a strong and sturdy exoskeleton.


Hermit crabs need water in a tank to drink and bathe. Provide two water sources – one fresh and one saline. Never use tap water in a hermit crab enclosure, as this contains chlorine and copper that is toxic.

Get a water purifier, and purchase a saline solution from an exotic pet store, as table salt isn’t safe for purple pinchers.

Pour water into a bathtub and allow hermit crabs access to and from the water using ramps. Hermit crabs can’t hold their breath indefinitely and may drown if trapped in water.

The purple pincher is one of the most popular pet hermit crabs for a good reason. They’re comparatively small and social, and watching them interact is fun.