A tank’s substrate is important to hermit crabs. After all, your pets will spend the bulk of their time on sand or burrowed within it. The type of bedding you choose must be safe, comfortable, and easy for your hermit crabs to explore. You’ll need to know if certain kinds of sand are dangerous for hermit crabs.
Most kinds of sand are safe for hermit crabs. The only exception is calcium sand, otherwise known as vita sand or reptile sand. Vita sand tends to solidify when exposed to moisture, which can trap or suffocate hermit crabs. To keep your hermit crabs safe, avoid sand that’s very fine or poor at retaining water. Good alternatives include all-purpose sand, beach sand, and aquarium sand.
If you want to improve the water-retaining qualities of sand, you can modify it slightly. Coconut fibers can be mixed with sand to add nutrients and additional padding. Likewise, you can mix different kinds of sand together. This enables your hermit crabs to enjoy the benefits of each substrate.
What Sand is Bad for Hermit Crabs?
Hermit crabs cannot be directly harmed by sand, regardless of the kind that’s used. No sand is toxic, as long as it’s properly cleaned. If uncleaned, it’s the chemicals, debris, or other things mixed into the sand that may be harmful. There are only a few dangers:
- Dirty sand. A hermit crabs’ enclosure must be combed and cleaned of any debris and bacteria. Bacteria or sharp objects can pose a health risk, especially during a hermit crab’s molting period.
- Sand that is too fine. Hermit crabs may be unable to burrow into sand that’s overly fine. This will leave your hermit crabs stressed and exposed. Fine sand may also prevent airflow or trap your hermit crabs, leaving them to suffocate.
- Sand that’s too high in calcium. Calcium won’t directly harm hermit crabs, but it doesn’t allow for moisture in the sand or proper burrowing.
As long as your sand isn’t dirty, too fine, or heavy in calcium, it’s OK for hermit crabs.
Can You Use Regular Sand for Hermit Crabs?
Hermit crabs are resilient creatures. Your pets will be able to adapt to most kinds of sand, including regular sand. However, there are exceptions. Regular sand is only acceptable when the following applies:
Hermit crabs are natural burrowers. This behavior allows them to find rest and enjoy protection. Your sand must be easy to dig through and shouldn’t be prone to cave-ins. Choose sand that has a higher moisture content and isn’t too coarse or too fine.
This is important as hermit crabs are nocturnal creatures. While more active in the nighttime, your hermit crabs will likely be burrowed underground during the day. Burrowing is also a form of defense. Without their shells, hermit crabs are vulnerable, and they often bury themselves as another layer of protection.
To properly tunnel through their environment, hermit crabs need moist sand. Specifically, it must be able to hold its shape and have a sandcastle-like consistency.
This is because hermit crabs aren’t designed to tunnel through hardened earth. That’s even more true when they’re molting. Protection is extra important for the molting stage as hermit crabs will shed their existing exoskeleton. As they grow a new one, hermit crabs will be at their most vulnerable.
They cannot move while their new shells harden, leaving them at the mercy of the elements. According to the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, molting hermit crabs will try to find the safest place to molt. This is why burrowing is often a sign that a hermit crab is about to shed its exoskeleton.
Be sure your hermit crab has the right sand. If your sand doesn’t naturally retain water, you can modify it. For example, some owners mix their sand substrate with coconut fiber to improve its water retention qualities.
Most importantly, hermit crabs need sand that’s clean. Like any animal, they can suffer from health problems if left in a waste-filled environment. Be sure to clean the enclosure at least once a week. The sand must also be completely changed out in intervals to prevent a build-up of bacteria.
Make sure that any new sand is properly sanitized. Before placing the sand in your hermit crabs’ enclosure, always double-check its quality. Here’s how:
- Make sure that the sand isn’t treated with any harmful chemicals.
- Make sure the substrate package hasn’t been opened, is free from tears, and doesn’t smell off.
- Comb through your sand for debris before adding it to your hermit crab tank.
Best Kind of Sand for Hermit Crabs
Not posing a direct danger to your hermit crab doesn’t mean that all sands are equal. We’ll explore the kinds of sands that your hermit crabs will enjoy most and explain why:
All Purpose Sand (or Quikrete)
All-purpose sand is the easiest to find and cheapest to buy. As its name implies, all-purpose sand can be used to brick pavers, flagstones and make snow and ice less slippery.
For hermit crabs, it’s considered ideal as it has the right texture (not too coarse or too fine) and size. It also comes pre-washed, making it a safer choice. While it may seem too industrial to use for hermit crabs, rest assured, it’s safe.
All-purpose sand is washed and coarse, making it clean and water-retaining. This option is also inexpensive and easily accessible. You can easily find a 50-pound bag of Quikrete (a popular brand) at your local hardware store.
Do you want more natural sand for your hermit crabs? If so, beach sand is a good choice. It may not be as accessible to most people as a bag of Quikrete. However, if you live near a beach, or travel to the beach regularly, this sand is ideal. However, unlike all-purpose sand, there are caveats. When using beach sand, always subject it to the following routine:
Check The Texture of Your Sand
Beach sand that’s too fine will not be good for hermit crabs as fine sand is more difficult to burrow through. In the worst-case scenario, it may even cause suffocation. Instead, choose sand that is coarse with larger grains.
Beach sand – also known as wild sand – has no standards for cleanliness. If you gather it from your local shoreline, you may find it’s full of debris (like glass). On cleaner beaches, it could still contain pebbles, cracked shells, and corals. While still natural, these can clutter up your hermit crab tank or cause injury.
Comb The Sand
Before putting the substrate into your hermit crabs’ tank, comb through the sand. This can be done with a sifter or a designated comb. The idea is to pull out any tiny debris that you missed on the first sweep. These include small glass shards and sharp coral pieces. This is especially important when your hermit crabs enter the molting stage.
Bake Your Sand
You need to sanitize sand. Bacteria or pollutants found in the wild can be devastating to hermit crabs because they have only known a domestic life. Do this by cleansing the sand under tap water, drying it, and baking it in the oven. That will wash and remove any of the remaining dangers.
Aquarium sand refers to commercial sand that is marketed for aquarium use. It usually comes in a variety of colors, from black to pink and beyond. Aquarium sand may also have special features to make it more convenient for aquarists. For example, it may help in removing waste or maintaining a pH balance.
With hermit crabs, you don’t need all these bells and whistles. It can even make your sand more expensive. The additions can also be harmful to your hermit crabs. If you do choose aquarium sand, choose the basic kinds.
Play sand is found in playgrounds or sandboxes for children, hence the name. Much like all-purpose sand, it’s cheap and easy to find. It’s composed of the same material as beach sand, but it’s been washed, treated, and shipped out. Regulations ensure that the sand stays clean and safe throughout this process.
It’s safe for hermit crabs. However, you should be careful about the vendors you order play sand from. The quality will largely depend on the brand, as some are stricter about the cleaning process than others.
To a lesser extent, it will also depend on how you handled the bag, if it was open, or if it was tampered with. Ensure that the color is correct, that it doesn’t smell bad, and that there is no residue on the sand. Certain kinds of play sand may also be too fine. If ordering online, double-check the degree of coarseness.
Sand Mixed with Soil
Sand all by itself is a good choice. However, mixing it with other substrates can broaden its advantages. For example, soil-based substrates, like coconut fibers, can improve your hermit crabs’ diet, traction, and the cleanliness of their environment. After all, hermit crabs are used to multiple terrains on beaches and shorelines. By providing them with diverse terrain, you’ll make them feel more at home.
It is recommended that you use a ratio of 5 parts sand to 1-part coconut fiber. When used together, this mix can be superior to a substrate that is just coconut fiber or sand alone. Coconut fiber absorbs water well, allowing the substrate to retain water. Sand can fill in the nooks and crannies of the coconut fiber, making digging a lot easier.
A common choice is Eco Earth coconut fiber, made from the husks of coconuts. It’s primarily used for reptiles, but it’s suitable for hermit crabs.
Can You Use Reptile Sand For Hermit Crabs?
Reptile sand may seem like an appealing contender for your hermit crabs. You may know it as vita sand or calcium sand. It’s easily found in pet stores at a low price.
However, there are negatives to reptile sand. This mainly surrounds the calcium itself, which can be excessive in most reptile substrates. Calcium sand is made from calcium carbonate. This can have adverse effects on your hermit crabs, but it does have some benefits.
Advantages of Calcium Sand
At first glance, calcium sand may seem ideal for hermit crabs. After all:
- It is often marketed to be used for hermit crabs.
- Hermit crabs need calcium in their diet to grow and stay healthy. In fact, according to International Congress Series, crabs naturally prefer a diet that is high in calcium.
- Calcium sand comes in many different colors. This can make a tank appear more interesting and vibrant.
- Some calcium sands are fortified with added vitamins and minerals. If your hermit crabs want to eat their substrate, they can enjoy some nutritional benefits.
- Calcium sand makes cleaning the tank easier as it can harden around waste materials.
Disadvantages of Calcium Sand
However, despite the benefits of calcium sand, it isn’t ideal for your hermit crabs. The risks outweigh the benefits:
- Calcium-based reptile sand is more expensive. All-purpose sand costs a fraction of the cost.
- Most reptiles don’t need wet environments. Their sand isn’t designed for moisture and is instead kept dry. This dryness allows it to stick to waste material for easy cleaning. However, wet calcium sand dries like cement. This makes it difficult for hermit crabs to burrow through.
- It can collapse underground tunnels or trap hermit crabs that have burrowed underground.
- Reptile sand is too powdery, which makes digging complicated. Your hermit crab may sink and struggle to climb up.
- It may get trapped underneath the surface and be unable to draw air through the grains, leading to suffocation.
How To Make Hermit Crab Substrate
To save money on pre-packaged hermit crab sand, you can make your own. DIY hermit crab substrate is really a matter of blending sands or other substrates together.
For example, you can blend all-purpose sand with coconut fibers. You can also mix beach sand with aquarium sand to save money while still enjoying unique colors.
With that said, you shouldn’t just pour different substrates into a pot and shake. Here’s how to prepare your hermit crab sand so all the materials continue to be safe for your pet.
A substrate that’s too shallow will make it impossible for your hermit crabs to burrow properly. Likewise, a substrate that’s too deep can be difficult to clean. Instead, start by determining the ideal depth of your sand:
- Take the measurements of your largest hermit crab
- The depth of your sand will need to be three to 4 times this size
This will give all your hermit crabs, including the largest, enough space to molt successfully.
Measure out the size of your tank. Remember, hermit crabs should be kept in groups. There should be at least 5 gallons of space per pair of hermit crabs. You should keep a long stretch of space free of objects, where hermit crabs can run if they need to spend energy.
Note that the depth of sand should be uniform throughout the whole tank. Subtract any objects that you will need to embed into the substrate, like pools of water and pots.
Examine Your Sand
Even if you have store-bought sand, be sure to inspect it. It should be free of dirt, debris, and other foreign materials. Also, keep an eye out for bugs and mildew. If you notice this with your bag of sand, you will need to replace it entirely.
While all commercially sold bags are packaged and sealed, old bags can still be compromised. You should check over the bag for any openings or tears. If you find one, even if the contents seem otherwise clean, it’s a good idea to discard this bag. You don’t want to regret it later after your crab has already grown ill or injured.
Wash The Sand
Once your sand is free of foreign material, it’s time to clean out the mixture:
- Pour water over the sand.
- Stir it with a long wooden spoon or any other mixing tool that is not made with metal.
- Let the sand settle for a minute, and then tip out the water.
- Then, repeat this process. You will need to rinse out the sand multiple times until the water runs clear. About 5 rinses is a good rule of thumb.
Once the water has run clear, it’s time to heat the sand. This will fully remove any bacteria and other microorganisms. To do this, you can either bake the sand or boil it.
To bake the sand:
- Pour the still-wet sand into a baking tray or a large glass pan
- Bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Fahrenheit
To boil the sand:
- Place it in a pot and add enough water to fully submerge the sand
- Cover the pot and let it boil for about 20 minutes
Mix To The Right Consistency
You should add water until your sand reaches the right consistency. This will be sandcastle-like and able to hold its shape. If done properly, your hermit crabs can safely burrow under the substrate without cave-ins. During this step, make sure to use dechlorinated water. Hermit crabs are sensitive to chlorine. You can achieve this by:
- Buying bottled spring water
- Boiling tap water for 20 minutes
- Adding dechlorinating water treatment drops
With all these options to choose from, what’s the best sand for your hermit crabs? That’s a matter of:
- Types of sand available. Quikrete may be what you can find most easily.
- Your budget. Gathering from the beach may be a cost-effective method, but be sure to clean it properly.
- Your aesthetic preferences. Do you prefer a tank with brighter colors? Then aquarium sand may be the best option.
Just make sure your sand isn’t too fine. With the right substrate, you can create the right home for your hermit crabs.