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Can You Use Soil for Hermit Crabs?

Before getting pet hermit crabs, you need to prepare a suitable habitat. While sand is considered the default substrate choice, soil can be used as an alternative.

Most hermit crabs can live in soil bedding. You can’t just use soil from your yard or get potting soil from a garden center. Instead, you’ll need to get coconut soil or creature soil from a specialist pet store.

One solution for anybody wishing to use soil as a substrate for hermit crabs is to mix it with sand.

Do Hermit Crabs Like Dirt?

Hermit crabs are fussy about cleanliness and hygiene. This is why owners provide a sand-based substrate for their hermit crabs. Despite this, hermit crabs enjoy living in the soil.

This is because soil replicates the natural habitat of hermit crabs. Almost all hermit crabs in the United States will have been captured from a beach.

Think about your last trip to the beach. You likely found various banks of vegetation and plant life in dunes, suggesting the presence of soil.

Besides, some hermit crabs are native to moist, soil-dense environments. This is likely if you get an exotic species of hermit crab online. These hermit crabs will hold a particular preference for dirt and soil.

Can You Put Dirt in a Hermit Crab Cage?

Placing dirt in a hermit crab cage can help the inhabitants feel more at home. However, do not dig up dirt from your backyard and put it in your hermit crab’s home. Soil and dirt must meet certain criteria:

  • Devoid of dangerous chemicals, such as pesticides
  • Not home to parasitic organisms, like gnats and mites
  • Loose enough to dig and breathe within, but won’t just collapse
  • Will absorb moisture

Use specialist soil for a hermit crab habitat. You may be reluctant to pay for dirt. It seems like a waste of money when it is so readily available. Dirt designed for animal habitats is recommended for hermit crabs.

can hermit crabs live in soil?

Can Hermit Crabs Live in Soil?

As we have intimated, many hermit crabs are familiar with – and comfortable within – dirt. This means that you can use soil as bedding if you wish. This could be an alternative to sand or used in conjunction as a combination. The latter approach is recommended.

Provided the soil is not too thick, hermit crabs can breathe within it. If it is not too thin and reedy, it will not collapse upon burrowing hermit crabs. If it has not been treated with chemicals, it will not be toxic.

How your hermit crab reacts to living in soil depends upon what it is familiar with. Hermit crabs that have previously lived exclusively in sandy climes should replicate this habitat in captivity. If your hermit crabs are more familiar with dirt, they’ll enjoy soil as a substrate.

How to Use Soil as a Hermit Crab Substrate

When you first bring hermit crabs into captivity, they will be stressed and anxious. Everything they know has been turned upside down. This means that you should replicate their natural environment.

One way to achieve this is by mixing sand and dirt to create a hybrid substrate. This will offer the best of all possible worlds for hermit crabs. As discussed, do not just sprinkle dirt into the sand. Pick up specific substrate designed for animals,

Aim for 6 inches of substrate. Mixing the two materials to a 50/50 ratio is ideal. If necessary, place the dirt closer to the bottom of the habitat. This will provide greater warmth, comfort, and darkness for distressed or molting hermit crabs.

What Is The Best Soil for Hermit Crabs?

As mentioned, you should get specialist soil for hermit crabs from an exotic pet specialist store. Do not just buy soil from a garden center.

Soil for small animals typically comes in two forms. Coconut soil, which is also known as forest bedding, and creature soil. The latter is designed primarily for spiders and bugs. As hermit crabs are similar in lifestyle to these species, they can live safely within it.

Coconut Soil

You will likely find coconut soil for hermit crabs marketed as forest bedding. This type of substrate is most commonly associated with lizards and snakes. Search these aisles of a pet store to find it. Oftentimes, forest bedding is packaged as a solid, hard brick.

This substrate earns its colloquial nickname from its production technique. Forest bedding is constructed from the fibers of coconut. These are shredded extremely finely until they resemble soil.

To make use of forest bedding for hermit crabs, place the brick of the substrate in a bowl of water. Add marine salt to this water for additional goodness. The substrate will absorb the water and grow soft. You can then break it up and apply it to your hermit crab habitat.

Hermit crabs often like to eat forest bedding. With this in mind, consider adding some calcium supplements or ground cuttlebone to the substrate. This will promote the growth of a strong, healthy exoskeleton.

The main advantage of forest bedding is its ability to retain moisture. Hermit crabs must live in a habitat with at least 80% humidity. If you use forest bedding as a substrate, you will reach for a misting spray less often.

Creature Soil

As mentioned, creature soil is primarily designed for insects. Is creature soil good for hermit crabs, too? Like coconut soil, it holds moisture well. This retains humidity and makes it easier for your hermit crabs to burrow.

Creature soil is not solely comprised of dirt. Usually, it will be a combination of soil, carbon, moss, and sand. It contains everything your hermit crabs would find in their natural habitat.

Be aware, this can be a blessing and a curse. Creature soil is the likeliest substrate to attract insects and bugs to the habitat of your hermit crabs. In itself, this is no bad thing. Hermit crabs eat insects, and some bugs will help keep the aquarium clean.

Not all insects are equal though, especially where hermit crabs are concerned. It becomes likely that your habitat will attract gnats and mites. This is primarily due to the presence of moss in the product.

As per the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, these can become the bane of a hermit crab’s life. Regularly assess your pets and their tank for any sign of infestation. If your hermit crab is beset by parasites, arrange an immediate clean of the habitat.

Soil That Should Be Avoided

We have been at pains to explain that garden soil should not be used for hermit crabs. Even if you do not use chemicals treatments yourself, traces may still find themselves in the dirt. Hermit crabs are easily poisoned by pesticides and herbicides.

These traces may be in the dirt itself, or its inhabitants. By digging up garden soil, you’ll bring insects and plant buds with it. These may have consumed or absorbed these chemicals. When the hermit crab eats dirt, it will experience toxicity by osmosis.

Also, you likely watered your garden soil. This will have involved the use of tap water. This water source, while safe for humans, is toxic to hermit crabs. As per Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, this is due to the presence of heavy metals in the water.

How about a trip to the garden center, though? Such a location may promise that their soil is organic. Unfortunately, it is also unsafe to use potting soil for hermit crabs. Regardless of what a store promises, potting soil will almost certainly contain fertilizers.

Also, potting soil does not cope well with moisture. Instead of becoming humid, it will turn to mud. This will make digging difficult and be unhygienic for your hermit crabs. They may even grow stuck in the mud, unable to move in order to eat or drink.

Disadvantages of Using Soil As A Hermit Crab Substrate

If you decide to use soil as a hermit crab substrate, there are pros and cons. Many hermit crabs will enjoy this habitat. It can provide a boon to hermit crab health, as well as lifestyle.

Soil Consistency

If you utilize appropriate soil, it will be flexible. This is critical for the health and happiness of hermit crabs. They need to be able to dig and burrow with ease. Equally, the substrate needs a degree of solidity.

Treat soil the same way as you would sand. Check if sand is suitable as a substrate for hermit crabs by building a sandcastle. If the construct crumbles, the sand is too fine. It may collapse on top of your hermit crabs. If the substrate is too tough to build with, it is too solid to dig into.

The same applies to soil. Measure around 6 inches of soil and get to work. If you can build the equivalent of a sandcastle, it is of the right consistency. Your hermit crabs will not have difficulty maneuvering in the substrate.

If in doubt, ensure the substrate is soft – without being coarse. Hermit crabs love to climb, which can result in falls from height. Your substrate should provide a safe landing. Soil, arguably even more than sand, meets this need.

Food Source

If you choose a nourishing soil, hermit crabs will eat it. As natural omnivorous scavengers, hermit crabs are not fussy about their food intake. They will eat anything they can easily gain access to.

Hermit crabs do care about having variety in their diet. As per Animal Behavior, they will be indifferent to the food they have recently eaten. This could include specialist pellets of fresh food that you provide.

By providing an edible substrate, hermit crabs have a constant source of alternative nourishment. As we mentioned, hermit crabs will also eat insects living within the substrate.

can you put dirt in a hermit crab cage?


Soil is better than sand at retaining moisture. It ensures that a habitat remains humid and reduces the need to lubricate substrate for digging.

If you use sand in an aquarium, you may notice that your hermit crabs knock over their baths and water dishes regularly. Maybe your hermit crabs are just clumsy. It is likelier that they are softening the sand with water as this makes it easier to move.

This becomes important when hermit crabs are about to molt. When hermit crabs molt, they shed their exoskeleton completely and grow a new one. This is a vulnerable time for hermit crabs. As a result, they burrow as deep under their substrate as possible.

Dirt and soil make this easier. These are naturally shiftable substrates. Your hermit crabs can get themselves to safety, in a dark, warm location. What’s more, as soil can double as a food source, it will keep your crabs nourished until a lengthy molting process concludes.

Disadvantages of Using Soil As A Hermit Crab Substrate

The benefits of using soil are countered by risks. Before proceeding with the use of soil as a solitary substrate for hermit crabs, familiarize yourself with these potential drawbacks.

Fungi And Bacteria

Soil is effective at retaining moisture and humidity. As hermit crabs require this humidity, this is a good thing. Alas, it does come with a caveat. Bacteria, fungi, and mold also flourish in such environments.

Many forms of invasive bacteria make hermit crabs sick. Mold spores are particularly lethal. Your hermit crabs will breathe these in. As hermit crabs have tiny lungs, they will not survive for long in such an environment.

Wipe down the walls of your aquarium daily and watch for any suspicious growths. These must be removed immediately.

Invasive Species

We previously discussed the risk of parasitic insects entering a hermit crab habitat that utilizes dirt as a substrate. If mites attach themselves to hermit crabs, they make your crab’s life miserable. Regularly change the soil to prevent these parasites from setting up home.

Even ants can be problematic. As explained by Oecologia, invasive ant populations drive hermit crabs away from natural habitats. This is because ants spoil food sources. Your hermit crabs may grow reluctant to eat if ants invade their aquarium.

Insects breed at a rate of knots. This means that, if you are not careful, they will quickly become the dominant species in the home of your hermit crabs. Keep an eye on any visitors, clearing them out as when necessary.

General Cleaning

Consider the fact that soil is likely to require more cleaning and maintenance than sand. Soil is known as dirt for a reason. It will be kicked all over the habitat and may start to mark the walls. This can block your view of your hermit crabs.

What’s more, soil will often contaminate food and water dishes, as well as bathing water. If you change these every day, that is not a concern. You will need to be on the ball with your spot cleaning, though.

Soil also makes uneaten food and waste tougher to spot. If you use soil as a substrate for your hermit crabs, check and change it daily.

Replicate a hermit crab’s natural habitat as much as possible, avoid any dirt that has been chemically treated, and clean regularly. If you work within these restrictions, your hermit crabs can thrive in soil.