Land hermit crabs can be found on beaches with rocky shorelines or structures to hide. Their marine relatives can be found in similar places out at sea on reefs and underwater structures.
Hermit crabs emerge from their hiding places only when they feel safe, making it difficult to find them at times of high human activity during the day.
However, low tide exposes these habitats, so that’s the best time to search for hermit crabs. You can also time your hunt by knowing the species, as different hermit crabs will be active at certain times.
Check wildlife laws or restrictions in your area. In most cases, capturing hermit crabs is legal, but wildlife parks, whether marine or land-based, have restrictions on removing animals from their boundaries.
Where Can You Find Hermit Crabs?
Hermit crabs are found all over the world in warm, tropical regions.
Terrestrial hermit crabs live on shorelines with easy access to land and water. Reef hermit crabs don’t need access to land and can live without ever leaving the ocean.
You can find hermit crabs near or on any surface where they can seek shelter. Hermit crabs are quite shy and have many natural predators.
Even with their transportable homes, they still take cover in dark spaces, such as those found in porous rocks and coral colonies. Even the largest hermit crabs have this survival instinct.
Also, hermit crabs live in any man-made structures in or near water. You should check for hermit crabs if there are shipwrecks, piled-up debris, or a dock.
How To Find Hermit Crabs At The Beach
Terrestrial hermit crabs live where the ocean meets the sea, such as:
- Along coastlines
- Rocky cliffs and pools
Marine hermit crabs live primarily on reefs, although some have been found in great depths.
Researchers at the Schmidt Ocean Institute have found hermit crabs in the Bremer Canyon, which reaches over 16,000 feet deep.
Deep-sea hermit crabs are out of reach for the average person. However, it’s possible to find terrestrial hermit crabs on a beach trip.
Beaches with rock pools and rock surfaces – artificial and natural – are those where you’re more likely to find hermit crabs.
When To Look
Low tide is the best time to search for hermit crabs on the beach. This is when the water level has receded to its lowest point, and hermit crabs will be easier to spot.
Low tide can be at different times each day, so plan ahead and look at the tide table.
Approach any area you want to search for hermit crabs calmly and quietly. Hermit crabs will flee for cover if they notice you. The closer you get, the better your chances of seeing where they go.
According to the Brazilian Journal of Biology, which studied four different species, hermit crabs can vary between nocturnal and diurnal.
They found that half the species studied were active in the early morning, while others only in the evening and night. So, research what species of hermit crab live in the area you’re visiting ahead of time.
Where To Look
Rock pools are safe havens for many critters during low tide, so hermit crabs can be found in and around these pools. Any rocky surfaces will be favored because:
- It’s easy for the hermit crabs to climb rocky surfaces.
- There are many places hermit crabs can quickly seek shelter in.
- Algae and debris are caught on the rough surface.
Hermit crabs will seek shelter under rocks and driftwood. You can carefully lift these objects, but you must be careful not to squish any critters hiding beneath.
What To Look For
You should find various shells wherever hermit crabs spend their time.
Most will be conch shells or closely resemble snail shells. Hermit crabs like to stay near these places, so they have a choice of homes. Better yet, many of the shells will contain hermit crabs already.
Hermit crab tracks will be a wide furrow in the sand with little holes on either side. Together, they appear like small tire tracks. Follow these tracks, and any shells at the end will be a hermit crab.
From a distance, you can watch for movement. Slower-moving shells will likely be snails, while faster-moving shells will be hermit crabs.
Those with patience can set down pieces of fruit near or in rock pools. Sit very still and wait. You’ll eventually see the hermit crabs emerge and start to eat your food offering.
Be careful when you pick up shells and tip them so that you can look inside.
Hermit crabs retract into the shell, but the tips of their legs should still be visible. In contrast, snails will be a solid, slimy mass like a piece of raw fish or chicken meat.
Always be cautious when picking up shells on the beach, as there may be ocean critters that can deliver a venomous bite or sting living in shells.
How To Find Marine Hermit Crabs
Marine hermit crabs can be found in coastal waters and reefs of varying depths. In most cases, you’ll need snorkeling or driving gear to explore areas where marine hermit crabs live.
Reef hermit crabs can be found on structures that provide shelter and food, such as:
- Sunken wrecks
- Dumped trash, like tires
Reef hermit crabs shouldn’t be removed from their environment without the right equipment. Unlike their terrestrial relatives, they’ll quickly suffocate if taken out of water.
They’ll need to be immediately placed in a container or tank with salt water, which is water mixed with aquarium salt, not table salt.
How To Catch Hermit Crabs At Night
Hermit crabs have learned when humans are the most active and know to avoid us during these times.
At night, human activity is much reduced, so hermit crabs aren’t as skittish. So, the absence of noise encourages hermit crabs to emerge.
Naturally, it’ll be easier to find any nocturnal hermit crab species in the evening or at night. They’ll leave more tracks and scurry around to search for food.
You can also benefit from a headlamp with a red light in the dark. Red lights are less startling to animals while providing enough light to navigate the area.
Red light reflects in the eyes of hermit crabs, making it easier to see them on the beach.
How To Catch And Handle Wild Hermit Crabs
Despite their hard shells, hermit crabs are delicate creatures, so it’s easy to hurt or kill them accidentally.
Once you’ve identified a hermit crab, gently grasp its shell and lift it. In most cases, when you touch a hermit crab, it’ll retreat into its shell.
Don’t pull it away by force if it grips at the surface. This will hurt them by damaging the legs, which are good at holding tightly onto surfaces. Release the hermit crab and try again later.
It’s best to layer the bottom of this container with at least 1 cm of thick sand. The sand will act as insulation and reduce the risk of injury while being carried around.
Although terrestrial hermit crabs can remain out of the water for some time, they mustn’t be allowed to dry out. A water dish with fresh water should be set in your temporary container.
Reef hermit crabs shouldn’t be kept out of water for more than a few minutes, as they haven’t adapted to terrestrial living as other hermit crabs. Instead, they’ll suffocate once their gills dry out.
Have a container with marine saltwater ready for the hermit crab before you remove it from the water.
Is It Illegal To Catch Hermit Crabs?
The legality of catching reef hermit crabs depends on the location. Marine parks and protected reefs often have stringent laws about what you can and cannot do within their boundaries.
The same applies to beaches and estuaries where terrestrial hermit crabs are found.
It can even be illegal to remove empty shells from certain locations. Depending on the country, permits could be required for taking native animals from the environment.
Perform research about the region you want to capture hermit crabs.
Should You Catch Wild Hermit Crabs?
Hermit crabs are rarely bred in captivity, largely because we can’t easily replicate the conditions that trigger breeding. So, all hermit crabs available in pet stores are wild-caught specimens.
Sadly, many hermit crabs die when taken from the wild, as their owners don’t know how to care for hermit crabs properly.
Removing too many hermit crabs isn’t good for the ecosystem. So, limit yourself to 5 hermit crabs, as they’re social and need friends to remain happy and healthy.
There are always risks when adding wild-caught specimens to your tank, as they haven’t gone through a quarantine period. That increases the chances of new hermit crabs carrying disease or parasites (mites).
If you catch hermit crabs from the wild, quarantine them in an isolation tank for 30 days.