can you release hermit crabs into the wild?

Can You Release Hermit Crabs At The Beach?

You may find yourself unable to care for your hermit crabs. Many hermies are sourced directly from the wild and aren’t born in captivity. That can make the beach seem like the ideal place to leave your hermit crabs.

Hermit crabs shouldn’t be released at the beach or in the wild. Unless it’s the same beach where they were caught, and only shortly after they were captured, this is a deadly action. Hermit crabs are vulnerable when exposed to the elements, pollution, parasites, and unsuitable environments for changing shells. If the beach is ill-suited to hermit crabs, so they’ll get eaten by predators or die in other ways.

This is very likely to be the case in the U.S., where most hermit crabs are non-native species. For this reason, it’s usually illegal to release hermit crabs into the wild. You may have to pay a fine or face other legal repercussions. If you must part with your hermit crabs, it’s better to find a new owner or contact hermit crab rescue organizations.

Can Pet Hermit Crabs Survive In The Wild?

Most pet hermit crabs do not survive when released back into the wild. Hermit crabs are quite complex creatures with very delicate bodies. If yours are set loose at a beach, their fate will likely be a cruel, painful, and unnecessary death.

Of course, this comes as a surprise to many owners, since hermit crabs are unlikely to breed in captivity. Because of this, almost all hermit crabs are caught in the wild.

Even still, once hermit crabs are kept domestically, it becomes extremely difficult to return them to their natural habitat. You should never try to return hermies to the beach or other ‘native’ locales. Otherwise, your pets will fall victim to:

The Elements

Pet hermit crabs benefit from tanks and enclosures that are climate-controlled. The humidity and temperature are kept at a precise level. Even if we discount the amount of bacteria and pollution your hermies will be exposed to, this sudden change could be enough to kill them. Hermit crabs thrive at:

  • Temperatures of about 75-85 degrees
  • Humidity levels of 70% or just above this

Because of this, the wild is dangerous to hermies. Even in tropical regions, or at beaches that other hermit crabs frequent, they may be exposed to:

  • Sudden Temperature Fluctuations. They may go high into the 90-100 F range during heat waves or low into the 50-60 F range during cold snaps.
  • Wide Humidity Ranges. Hermit crabs breathe using specially adapted gills, which filter moisture from the air around them to absorb its oxygen. Once humidity drops below 60%, they will slowly suffocate.

This can kill wild hermit crabs, too. However, your hermies will be newly exposed to these conditions and unable to adapt gradually. If the change is sudden, your domesticated hermit crabs will be vulnerable.

best place to release hermit crabs

Shell

Hermit crabs must switch out shells often in order to grow and protect themselves from predators. It will be harmful, and even deadly, if you release your pets at a beach that lacks:

  • Any shells
  • Shells that will fit them
  • Shells deemed to be of high quality, intact, and good at camouflage
  • Shells that can be claimed before other hermit crabs

If this happens, your hermit crabs will remain exposed and vulnerable. This makes them easy pickings for any birds, lizards, or aquatic predators.

Your hermies may be unable to find shells. This will lead to death in short order. Otherwise, hermit crabs may try to use whatever other material that they can find. This can end up being man-made trash. It’s a poor substitute, often coated in chemicals and paint that are toxic.

According to Liverpool John Moores University, exposure to human pollution has been linked to aberrant behavior when selecting available shells. After being confronted by man-made objects, hermit crabs showed confusion and hesitation when picking new shells. They took far longer to investigate and enter shells in good condition.

As such, even if your hermie finds a proper shell, it may be cognitively limited. Exposure to artificial objects will prevent them from securing a safe home. This could give predators time to attack, or leave them vulnerable to the elements.

Exposure to Parasites And Bacteria

If your hermit crabs were born in captivity, they would be at greater risk of dying from outside pathogens. Wild hermit crabs are also vulnerable to bacteria, pollution, and parasites.

In fact, according to Hofstra University, hermit crabs and their shells are often hosts for symbiotes. These parasites, such as flatworms and polychaetes, feed on the hermies and their homes alike.

Your domesticated hermit crabs will not have the experience or tolerance necessary to contend with these factors. That can make them more likely to die without the protection and comfort of their tank.

Can You Release Hermit Crabs Into The Wild?

Aside from the health risks to your hermit crabs, there are legal factors to consider. Releasing hermit crabs into the wild is frowned upon by animal protection agencies, and it may also be against the law.

In the United States, laws vary between states, but it is illegal to release any wild animals if they are not native to the area. For example, in Massachusetts, it is illegal to even relocate wildlife. In California, abandoning any animal is treated as a misdemeanor, according to the Connecticut General Assembly.

It’s not only an ethical concern, but an environmental one. Releasing your hermit crabs into the wild can result in serious hazards due to:

Disease

Hermit crabs kept as pets may have been shipped and moved across several states. Many are transported from around the world, from South America to Asia to the Pacific Islands. Because of this, there is a risk of you acquiring hermit crabs that carry illness or disease.

The particular strand of bacteria or pathogen may be lethal to other creatures. This is especially true for other wild hermit crabs that have never been exposed to it. By releasing sick or contaminated hermies, you may introduce new diseases into an unprepared ecosystem.

Impact On Local Flora And Fauna           

Even if your hermit crabs are healthy and clean, they may still cause damage to a new environment. This is especially true if you many of them.

Only one species of hermit crab is native to the U.S., and only along the East coast. That means your hermies probably have no natural place in your environment. If you release them at a local beach, they have the potential to become an invasive species. If their tank mates are let go with it, they could reproduce into a small colony and then expand from there.

Together, the invasive hermies may become a danger to potential prey, which now have to contend with a new predator. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this can have a cascading effect. That prey animal may disappear, and when it’s gone, it cannot manage the population of other prey. This might include pests and crop-destroying insects, which could seriously impact the ecosystem.

The consequences of upsetting an ecosystem’s balance will always be unpredictable. However, it can be catastrophic.

Best Place To Release Hermit Crabs

There is only one situation where it’s safe to reintroduce a hermit crab into the wild: You release it at the same beach shortly after it was captured.

This can prove difficult, though. The hermit crabs were likely bought at a pet store, and they may have imported them from a far-off region. Even if they claim it was sourced locally, you have to take their word on where, when, and at what spot it was captured. If someone misremembered, has inaccurate information, or simply guesses, you could:

  • End up killing the hermies by accident
  • Harming the ecosystem  
  • Facing legal action and fines

Because of this, you should never release a hermit crab into the wild. If you capture them yourself, you can only take them back to their native home. In other situations, the dangers are too great.

Put Them Up for Adoption

The best solution is to find someone willing to adopt your hermit crabs. In some cases, they may even be willing to foster the hermit crabs before rehoming them to an appropriate owner.

There is no shortage of people looking to adopt hermit crabs. You can:

  • Put them up for sale or adoption on Craigslist
  • Seek out new homes through hermit crab forums
  • Put up flyers at your local pet store, with their permission
  • Advertise the hermit crabs on buy/sell/trade sites or apps

This may take a few days or weeks. However, if you offer up the tank, food, and equipment to go with the hermit crabs, this will make the offer more appealing. It’s better than dooming it to a cruel fate at a random beach.

can pet hermit crabs survive in the wild?

Contact A Hermit Crab Rescue

Hermit crab rescue services are available. They can help anyone unwilling or unable to continue looking after their pet hermit crabs. The organizations will care for and rehome them, allowing someone else to adopt them.

Depending on where you live, these rescues may not be locally available. However, it could be worth a commute to ensure your hermies get a quality home and proper care. In some cases, the organizations can at least put you in contact with other groups or even pet stores willing to take them.

Return Them To The Pet Store

This may not be feasible in every case, but it’s worth a try. You can call and ask to return the hermit crabs to the pet store where you bought them. They might be more willing to take hermies if you bought them recently. If you’ve owned them for several months or years, the odds are less likely.

You should never release them at the beach. It’s perilous for the hermit crabs, and you could face legal action in certain states if you get caught. Instead, take steps to find your hermit crabs a new owner.