can hermit crabs pinch humans?

Why Do Hermit Crabs Pinch You?

Eventually, you will be pinched by your hermit crab. This is as inevitable as being bitten or scratched by another animal. It is important to understand why hermit crabs pinch and how to avoid this from happening.

A hermit crab pinching you is rarely a form of aggressive behavior. Most hermit crabs are docile and only pinch when feeling afraid or acting in self-defense. Hermit crabs also pinch if they fear losing their footing. They use claws to grab something to hold onto. Of course, this may be your hand or fingers during handling. Hermit crabs use their claws to eat, so you may be pinched while hand-feeding.

Recognizing the warning signs of pinching in hermit crabs will minimize this issue. Learn how to react when pinched. They are likely not actively attacking you, so something has caused this aggression.

Do Hermit Crabs Pinch or Bite?

Hermit crabs do not have teeth in the conventional sense, so they do not bite. They crush food to digest using tiny mouthparts called maxillipeds. This does not make hermit crabs harmless. Like all crabs, they have pincers – aka chelipeds.

Hermit crabs have two chelipeds at the front of their body, one large and one small. These are often considered the foremost pair of hermit crab legs. Chelipeds serve many purposes, but are primarily used to scoop food into the mouth and grip surfaces while climbing.

Chelipeds can also be used in attack or defense. Hermit crabs know how to use these claws to defend themselves. It is rare for a hermit crab to use their chelipeds out of aggression, but it does happen.

Can Hermit Crabs Pinch Humans?

The anatomy of a hermit crab claw opens wide enough to pinch humans. However, most are not naturally inclined to pinch their owners.

As we will discuss shortly, hermit crabs usually only pinch a human when afraid. Even then, most hermit crabs prefer to retreat inside shells over pinching. Accidents can happen, and hermit crabs may mistake your hand for food. To minimize the risk of being pinched by hermit crabs:

  • Earn their trust as hermit crabs have a memory
  • Handle appropriately and only when necessary
  • Avoid touching their pincers
  • Wear gloves during handling

If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to avoid painful pinches. This will also keep your hermit crabs content. They do not enjoy pinching any more than you like being on the receiving end.

Do Hermit Crabs Give Warning Before Pinching?

This depends on the reason for the pinching. Hermit crabs usually pinch by instinct. For example, if a hermit crab fears it is about to fall, it grips something. This could be your hand if you are handling it at the time.

In such an instance, hermit crabs do not have time to give a warning. What’s more, they do not see the need. They are doing what needs to be done to survive.

Hermit crabs that pinch through fear or anxiety may give verbal warnings. This is known as stridulation. Hermit crab verbalizations sound like a cricket chirping, cross with a croaking frog. This is often a warning sign to stay away.

If you insist on handling a stridulating hermit crab, expect to be pinched. If your hermit crab starts to stridulate during handling, it is announcing displeasure. You should return the hermit crab to its habitat.

Do Hermit Crabs Pinch Often?

If you are unfortunate, you may adopt a cranky and belligerent hermit crab. Such hermit crabs can pinch for seemingly no reason. This is rare, though. Most are docile and only resort to pinching if necessary.

If your hermit crabs are constantly pinching, it is advisable to review your actions. You must be doing something that leads to this behavior. The hermit crabs are feeling afraid or insecure. 

Do Hermit Crabs Hurt When They Pinch You?

A hermit crab pinch can still be sore. As a rule, the smaller the hermit crab, the less painful the pinch will be. It largely depends on why the hermit crab pinched, though. If antagonized or frightened, hermit crabs pinch harder.

Most owners describe a pinch as comparable to a bee sting. Depending on your pain threshold, decide if that’s a risk you’re willing to take. Hermit crabs can also inflict minor injuries with a pinch. Skin can be broken, and bruises may form.

Why Does My Hermit Crab Keep Pinching Me?

If you are receiving regular pinches from hermit crabs, the issue likely lies with your behavior. Hermit crabs are guided by survival instinct. They will not willingly pick a fight with humans.

Your actions are provoking pinching, whether by accident or design. If you find yourself being pinched regularly by hermit crabs, ask yourself some important questions:

  • Do you force the hermit crabs into handling, even if they do not enjoy it?
  • Do you touch the claws of your hermit crabs?
  • Do you disturb your hermit crabs during daylight hours or mid-molting?
  • Do you hand-feed your hermit crabs or neglect to wash your hands after handling food?
  • Do you place your hermit crabs in precarious situations that leave them at risk of falling from height?
  • Do you regularly need to break up fights between hermit crabs in an enclosure?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the pinching is likely related. Let’s take a deeper look into the core reasons why hermit crabs pinch owners. This will help you understand why you are being pinched and how to avoid it in the future.

hermit crab pinching and won't let go

Aggressive Behavior

Hermit crabs are docile by nature. While they will come into conflict with each other, they rarely fight to wound. This makes it rare that hermit crabs will pinch through sheer aggression.

There are exceptions to every rule, though. Some hermit crabs are simply belligerent by nature. As per Integrative Biology, this becomes increasingly likely if hermit crabs spend a lot of time alone.

This is primarily due to a lack of socialization. Hermit crabs like to live in groups. In the wild, hermit crabs tend to live in colonies of up to 100. Living alone is not a natural state of being for hermit crabs. It brings about personality changes.

Loneliness also makes hermit crabs more anxious and fearful. Without the back-up of friends, hermit crabs feel more vulnerable. Avoid keeping hermit crabs in isolation unless molting or unwell. This will drastically reduce the likelihood of baseline antagonism.

Self-Defense

Arguably the most common reason for a hermit crab pinch is self-defense. This is a fear reflex, no different to a dog biting or a cat scratching. Hermit crabs have many reasons to fear humans, so you need to figure out and avoid what is antagonizing your pets.

Not all hermit crabs will pinch when afraid. Like all animals, hermit crabs have a fight-or-flight reflex. The reaction depends on the unique personality of the hermit crab. Some will try to flee or treat into their shell, while others will instinctively pinch.

Listen and watch for any warning signs that your hermit crab is agitated. These usually involve chirping or rapid, jerky movements. If you spot these, put the hermit crab down and leave it alone to destress.

Also, do not touch the claws of your hermit crab directly. This will provoke an immediate panic response. If hermit crabs cannot access their claws, they cannot defend themselves. They will instinctively clamp down without a second thought.

Avoid attempting to remove hermit crabs from their shells. This is a nightmare scenario. They will do anything to avoid being evicted – from shedding limbs to pinching with all their might.

Unwelcome Disturbance

Hermit crabs do not like being disturbed while sleeping. This means that you’ll need to be careful about when you interact with your pets. Hermit crabs can become disoriented and grumpy if roused from their slumber.

As hermit crabs are nocturnal, this means you must leave them alone during daylight hours. Most hermit crabs burrow under their substrate to sleep. Some will sleep in open view, though.

While it is only natural to worry that they are sick or dead, they are likely just dozing. Be patient, wait for the sun to go down, and lay down some food. They’ll soon come to life.

Equally, be careful about spot cleaning an aquarium during the day.  As discussed, your hermit crabs are likely asleep below the surface. Scraping and smoothing sand may annoy them. A claw could rise from the substrate to say, “back off, we’re asleep.”

Hermit crabs also dislike being removed from their habitat. Alas, this is sometimes necessary. If you need to deep clean an aquarium, it must be empty. Be careful when picking up hermit crabs to relocate them. This action may be met with a pinch.

Unsafe Handling

Inappropriate handling of hermit crabs is a common reason for pinching. Again, this may not be aggressive behavior from your hermit crabs. They may pinch to grab something due to fear of falling from your hand. The correct way to handle hermit crabs is:

  1. Ensure that they want to be handled – it takes time to gain trust
  2. Flex the palm of your non-dominant hand as taut as you can. Leave no loose skin
  3. Pick up the hermit crab by the shell. Never pick one up by the legs
  4. If the hermit crab loudly chirps and digs its feet in, leave it be
  5. If it permits handling, place it in your palm and allow it to explore

This is an exercise in faith for hermit crabs, so ensure you do not betray this confidence. Do not leave it dangling in mid-air. Guide the hermit crab on its exploration, ensuring it stays safe. If the hermit crab gets close to falling, gently steering it back to safety.

If hermit crabs fear a fall, they grip the first available surface as hard as possible. In this instance, that will be your hand. As the hermit crab will be nervous, it will grip hard and be reluctant to let go. Avoid allowing this to become a possibility through correct handling.

Mistaking Your Hand for Food

Hand-feeding hermit crabs is a great way to bond. Try this for yourself. Place a hermit crab in the palm of your hand and apply a little jam to your finger. The hermit crab will approach and start to lap at the jam.

Alternatively, you could hand-feed your hermit crabs with a spoon or even a pen lid. As discussed, this will help hermit crabs identify you as a source of pleasure. It will turn the most anxious hermit crab into a loving pet that welcomes human interaction.

This action can be dangerous, though. Hermit crabs eat by scooping food with their claws into their mouths. You can see where we are going with this. If the food is in your hand, a clumsy hermit crab may pinch you in a feeding frenzy.

What’s more, hermit crabs have comparatively poor eyesight. They rely primarily on their sense of smell to forage for food. If your hand smells of food, it could easily be mistaken for a snack.

Always wash your hands before handling hermit crabs. This should ensure that the scent of your skin is distinct from food. If your hermit crabs are hungrily awaiting dinner at sundown, consider wearing gloves before placing food in a habitat.

do hermit crabs hurt when they pinch you?

Breaking up a Fight

As previously intimated, hermit crabs will sometimes fight. While these social animals enjoy the company of their own kind, conflict occasionally arises. This takes several forms.

  • Play fighting for recreation.
  • ‘Antenna wrestling’ to establish a hierarchy of dominance.
  • Duels for superior shells.
  • Antagonism, born of competition for a mate or belligerent nature.

The latter is the biggest concern for owners. As per Animal Behavior, conflict over shells may not get physical. Hermit crabs engage in a practice called, “shell rapping.” This involves one hermit crab knocking on the shell of another.

What to Do if a Hermit Crab Pinches You

If you are pinched, stay calm. Your hermit crab has resorted to this action through fear or inappropriate behavior on your part. Under no circumstances attempt any of the following:

  • Yanking the hermit crab off by force. You will tear off limbs
  • Prizing pincers apart. The more you touch their claws, the harder hermit crabs pinch
  • Shaking your hand to loosen the hermit crab’s grip. If it falls, your hermit crab may die

Hold your breath, count to five, and walk to the enclosure. Lower the hermit crab onto the substrate. This will usually be enough to calm the hermit crab enough to release its grip. Leave it alone to calm down and destress. Pinching leaves hermit crabs in a state of agitation.

My Hermit Crab is Pinching and Won’t Let Go

Learn how to safely make a hermit crab let go when it pinches you. There are two approaches you could take.

Just be aware – these can backfire. If hermit crabs are worked up, they may be frightened and pinch ever harder. All the same, try these techniques to loosen a hermit crab claw grip on you.

  • Running the claw under lukewarm water
  • Blowing behind the hermit crab, or applying a hairdryer on low heat

Pinching is a fact of life for owners. If you care for your pets appropriately, it should be an infrequent experience. If your hermit crabs trust you, they will also let go faster.

Hermit Crab Pinch Treatment

Hermit crab pinches can easily break the skin. They may even leave bruises if they pinch you particularly hard. It is advisable to treat your injury.

Start by getting the hermit crab back into its enclosure and settled. Your pet needs to be your priority, no matter how much you may be hurting or bleeding. Once the crab is calm:

  1. Wash the pinched area with cold water and antibacterial soap
  2. Apply an ice pack if the wound is swelling
  3. Let the wound air dry
  4. Dress any bleeding with a band-aid or bandage
  5. Wear gloves when handling hermit crabs until the wound is fully healed

It is unlikely that you will need medical attention after a pinch. Hermit crab claws are not poisonous, so you should not experience ill effects. Using antibacterial soap will also minimize the risk of infection.

If your hermit crabs pinch you, try to understand why it has happened. Unless you unfortunate enough to own a rare ill-tempered hermit crab, there will be an explanation. This usually stems from human behavior.