Last Updated on October 17, 2023 by Joanne Harper
Wild hermit crabs traverse terrain while looking for food, so they’ll encounter soil while scavenging. All hermit crab tanks require a minimum of 6 inches of substrate for digging and burrowing.
The soil must be robust enough to avoid caving in on top of a burrowing hermit crab, and you can’t use soil treated with toxic pesticides or herbicides. Don’t just get soil from the garden.
Coconut soil (also called coconut coir or forest bedding) is best, but creature soil is a good choice.
Soil is a suitable hermit crab substrate because it maintains moisture and humidity better than sand, enabling hermit crabs to breathe and tunnel safely.
If a hermit crab is climbing, the soft texture will cushion falls. Also, some hermit crabs like eating soil.
Can Hermit Crabs Live in Soil?
Although hermit crabs are clean animals, most have no qualms about living in the soil.
While we associate hermit crabs with the golden sands of the Caribbean and Latin America, many species dig in the soil for food.
This suggests that an owner can line an enclosure with soil rather than sand. A handful of caveats apply to using soil in a hermit crab tank if you’re to keep hermit crabs safe.
Is Soil Good for Hermit Crabs?
Soil can be good for hermit crabs but can also be considered a health hazard. You must abide by the following rules if you use this material as a substrate:
- Never use soil treated with pesticides or herbicides.
- Purchase soil to reduce the risk of parasites living within – don’t get it from your yard.
- The soil must be solid enough to avoid collapse but allow breathing when burrowed.
Most exotic pet stores will sell animal-safe soil that you can use for hermit crabs.
Advantages of Using Soil as a Hermit Crab Substrate
Soil is usually soft but not coarse, so it won’t be painful for hermit crabs to move or dig within. The soil will also provide a softer landing for a hermit crab that falls from the walls or ceiling of a tank than sand.
You can check soil suitability by attempting to build a soil sandcastle. Consistency is ideal if you can achieve this without the soil falling apart.
If the soil crumbles, it is too fine and unsuitable for use as a hermit crab substrate.
More importantly, soil also tends to offer more moisture than sand. Nature Geoscience explains how ground soil maintains around 14% of rainfall. This means it shouldn’t struggle to retain humidity in a hermit crab enclosure, especially if you regularly mist the habitat.
Disadvantages of Using Soil as a Hermit Crab Substrate
As discussed, soil will maintain a humid environment for your hermit crabs. While this helps hermit crabs breathe, it can also become a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria. So, you must regularly change the substrate to keep a habitat safe.
Soil will create more cleaning. As hermit crabs love to dig and burrow, they’ll knock soil on the walls of a habitat. This must be spot-cleaned daily to prevent mold in the tank.
You’ll also need to change the water in a hermit crab enclosure daily if you use soil as a substrate. Sand is small enough to be ignored, but soil will sully the water.
Bugs and parasites may live in soil, even if purchased from a specialist store. Unfortunately, they’ll become dominant if you allow an insect population to take hold.
Oecologia explains how this can become problematic for hermit crabs – in some wild terrains, aggressive species of any rival hermit crabs for food. Keep an eye on your hermit crabs, ensuring they eat well and don’t struggle with parasites like mites.
Is Soil or Sand Better for Hermit Crabs?
In many respects, this depends on what your hermit crabs are used to.
Learn the origins of your hermit crabs when choosing a soil, and once you apply it to a habitat, watch how your pets respond. If hermit crabs are reluctant to borrow under a substrate or show signs of stress or anxiety, consider switching to an alternative.
Combining sand and soil combines sand and soil for an experience that mirrors the wild conditions of hermit crabs. Coconut soil replicates the conditions beach-dwelling hermit crabs will find in their natural habitat while searching for food.
How Deep Should Hermit Crab Substrate Be?
Whether you use soil or sand for hermit crabs, you should always provide enough. Consider the fundamental purposes of a substrate in a hermit crab habitat:
- Making your hermit crabs feel comfortable, reminding them of wild terrain.
- Providing hermit crabs can burrow under the surface to hide and sleep.
- Cushioning falls if a hermit crab slips while climbing or drops from the ceiling.
To this end, you should provide no less than six inches of substrate in any hermit crab habitat.
If you keep more than five hermit crabs in a single tank, apply more substrate so each animal has territory to call its own. Any less and you risk conflict among your pet hermit crabs.
What Is The Best Soil for Hermit Crabs?
Having established that soil can be used as a substrate for hermit crabs, let’s review the three most common varieties available for sale:
Can You Use Potting Soil for Hermit Crabs?
Never use potting soil in a hermit crab enclosure. The soil used for planting flowers is potentially hazardous, even if purchased from a garden center.
The first concern with potting soil is that it struggles with moisture more than most varieties.
Unlike creature soil or coconut soil, potting soil clumps up and turns into mud. This will be messy and could lead to your hermit crabs getting stuck and unable to move.
Getting potting soil from your garden is the riskiest approach. You’ll likely have watered this soil at some stage using tap water. According to Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, tap water contains chlorine and heavy metals that are toxic to hermit crabs.
Potting soil also presents a permanent risk of pesticides or herbicides, and consumption of these chemicals will kill hermit crabs. Even organic potting soil from a garden center may have been treated with dangerous fertilizers and must be avoided.
Can You Use Creature Soil for Hermit Crabs?
Creature soil is a popular product in exotic pet stores, usually created from a blend of soil, sand, carbon, peat, and moss. Creature soil is designed with insects and arachnids in mind, most notably tarantulas.
Hermit crabs and large arachnids have several common characteristics, including a passion for burrowing under the substrate and a dependence on humidity. This means that, on paper, creature soil is an ideal substrate for your pet hermit crabs.
The main concern with creature soil is that it’ll attract more insects than any other substrate. This means that your hermit crab enclosure may become beset with parasites.
Is Coconut Soil Good for Hermit Crabs?
Coconut soil is the right choice if you wish to use soil as your hermit crab’s substrate. You can find this in pet shops, where it may be marketed as coconut coir, coconut fiber, or forest bedding.
Coconut soil is often sold as a solid brick that must be broken down before placing it in a tank. The best way to do this is to soak the soil in a bowl of filtered saline water. Once coconut soil softens, separate it and apply it as substrate.
More than any other soil, coconut soil maintains moisture. When burrowed in this material, your hermit crabs will find breathing much easier. This can reduce the need for misting sprays and maintain a humidity level of around 80%.
Coconut soil is also appealing to a hermit crab’s tastebuds.
You can use it to appeal to your pet hermit crab’s scavenging instincts by dotting food around the substrate and grinding up cuttlebone to sneak some extra calcium into the diet of your hermit crabs.
If you choose the right one, soil can make a suitable substrate for a hermit crab habitat. While most hermit crab owners gravitate toward sand to line an enclosure, the right soil is just as good.