Home » Why Do Hermit Crabs Pinch You? [5 Causes of Pinching]
can hermit crabs pinch humans?

Why Do Hermit Crabs Pinch You? [5 Causes of Pinching]

(Last Updated On: January 23, 2023)

If you’re thinking of keeping hermit crabs as pets, you’ll need to be prepared for the possibility of getting pinched occasionally. This is most likely to happen when hermit crabs are stressed and afraid.

Caring for hermit crabs involves handling them occasionally and reaching into their tank for various reasons, putting your hands and fingers at risk of their pinchers.

Do Hermit Crabs Bite or Pinch?

According to Chesapeake Science, some hermit crab species have teeth.

Depending on the type of hermit crab, it may have 1-3 teeth on its mandible. However, hermit crabs can’t bite you, as their teeth are only used to help them eat.

Their mouths are referred to as maxillipeds and are constructed of several different parts. The main parts include the mandibles, maxilla, labrum, and labium.

Each of these parts includes other smaller parts. You may see the term “mouth parts” used to describe how hermit crabs feed themselves.  

Hermit crabs use their mouth parts to tear food into tiny pieces so they can swallow or slurp. This is why manufacturers of store-bought hermit crab pellets recommend moistening the food to make it easier for hermit crabs to ingest.

While you won’t get bitten by hermit crabs, they can pinch you.

Why Did My Hermit Crab Pinch Me?

Terrestrial hermit crabs have two claws at the front of their bodies called chelipeds. One claw is large, and the other one is small. They use these front claws to grab ahold of and pinch things.

The large claw is mostly used to defend against predators and to close off their shell openings. According to Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, some hermit crabs are scared off by the size of another hermit crab’s large cheliped.

The hermit crabs with much larger chelipeds may not have to use their large claw aggressively to ward off another hermit crab. Simply showing their claw to another is enough to make the opposing hermit crab back off, especially when fighting over shells or females.

The small claw does little to protect them. Instead, it’s usually used for bringing food and water to its mouthparts. Also, they use their claws to burrow into the sand and scavenge for food.

Causes of Pinching in Hermit Crabs

Aside from using their large claws to protect themselves from other hermit crabs and predators, they may use them to pinch you if they’re afraid.

If you’re aware of these common causes of pinching, you may be able to avoid being pinched or at least be prepared when it happens:

1/ Unaccustomed to Handling

If a hermit crab is young or is new to living in captivity, it’s not going to be used to or comfortable with being handled by humans.

It may take a hermit crab a while to gain trust in you. Once that trust is established, and the hermit crab knows that you’re friendly and won’t hurt it, it should stop pinching you.

2/ Grumpy

Just like we have bad days that leave us grumpy and irritated, the same applies to hermit crabs. Maybe another hermit crab is bullying it, or it’s close to its molting stage.

Even if it’s been a long-time pet and it doesn’t usually pinch you when you pick it up, you could have handled it at the wrong time.

3/ Hungry

If you disturb a hermit crab during its feeding time or the food supply is low in its tank, a hermit crab could pinch you in response to hunger. Perhaps it feels that you’ll take its food away.

4/ Feels Unsafe

Before you pick up a hermit crab, you need to understand the right way to do so. Failing to pick it up in a way that makes it feel secure can lead to a painful pinch from a hermit crab.

Use slow movements when lifting your hermit crab so it doesn’t get scared and pinch you. Also, keep the palm of your hand flat, so there’s no loose skin for it to grip with its chelipeds.

5/ Self-Defense

Hermit crabs aren’t aggressive animals unless they feel threatened and attempt to defend themselves. This can happen when another hermit crab competes over a shell or food.

It can also happen when you reach into their tank to replenish their water supply, give them food, move things around, touch them, or lift a hermit crab.

hermit crab pinching and won't let go

How Strong Is A Hermit Crab’s Pinch?

While it’s difficult to find clear, science-backed information about how strong a hermit crab’s pinch is, it’s safe to say that it can be strong enough to break your skin and cause some bleeding.

How bad the damage from the pinch is can depend on the size of the hermit crab and how well it was able to get ahold of your skin.

A pinch from a baby hermit crab will hurt the least, and a pinch from a large hermit crab will hurt more than getting pinched by a small hermit crab.

What Does a Hermit Crab Pinch Feel Like?

If a baby hermit crab pinches you, it may not hurt much more than if you were to pinch yourself. However, a large hermit crab pinch could hurt enough to break the skin and cause bleeding.

When you get pinched, try not to react by shaking your hand or trying to shake off your hermit crab. If they’re latched onto your finger, none of that will help get it to release you.

So, you’ll only scare the hermit crab more and possibly hurt it due to a fall.

What Happens If A Hermit Crab Pinches You?

A pinch from a hermit crab can be quite unexpected, especially if it’s out of character for a hermit crab to pinch you. When they decide to pinch, they’ll latch on to whatever part of your hand they can.

Some may release their grip right away, while others hang on before finally letting go.

You may experience bleeding from the pinched area, but the affected area will be sore and bruised. The damage is usually worse the bigger the pinchers are, although this isn’t always the case.

What To Do If A Hermit Crab Pinches You

As a hermit crab owner, getting pinched at some point is bound to happen.

All you can do is be prepared for the chance it could happen. There are also precautions you can take to avoid getting pinched or at least minimize the damage if you do:

Stay Calm

You knew that a pinch could happen and would likely hurt.

Staying calm is the best way to get the hermit crab to release its grip and prevent further damage to your skin. Reacting aggressively could cause injury to a hermit crab.

Don’t Pull The Hermit Crab Off

The worst thing you can do in this situation is to try to pull the hermit crab off your skin. Trying to force the hermit crab to let go will cause it to tighten its grip.

Don’t Shake Your Hand

Your first instinct may be to shake or jerk your hand to get the hermit crab off you, but you shouldn’t do so. If the hermit crab flies off your hand, it could get hurt or killed.

Falling to the floor from a distance could injure or kill a hermit crab. Even if a hermit crab isn’t physically harmed, it’ll be stressed and hide away for weeks.

How To Get A Hermit Crab To Let Go of Your Finger

If you get pinched by a hermit crab, you’ll likely experience hock, some pain depending on the severity of the pinch, and the desire to get the hermit crab to let go of your hand or finger right away.

There are things you can try to get the hermit crab to let go. If the hermit crab is pinching you and won’t let go, your only option is to wait until the hermit crab decides to release you.

do hermit crabs hurt when they pinch you?

Lower Your Hand To Ground Level

Sometimes when hermit crabs are lifted too high up, they can get scared and fear falling, which can cause them to pinch you.

Try slowly lowering your hand to the ground to see if it’ll let go. If that doesn’t work, try lowering your hand into the hermit crab’s tank, where it may let go because it’s back in familiar surroundings.

Flatten Your Hand

You’ll want to find a way to get the hermit crab to relax enough to let go of you.

Flatten your hand if it’s not already. Flattening your hand will help decrease any threat your hermit crab may have felt before it decided to pinch you.

Put Your Hand into Water

With the hermit crab still holding on to your hand, lower your hand into some saltwater or freshwater, as this may make the hermit crab let go of you.

Don’t stick your hand under running tap water to try to make it let go. The chemicals in tap water are toxic to hermit crabs, and you could accidentally drown them.

How To Avoid Getting Pinched by A Hermit Crab

If a hermit crab feels safe and secure, it’s significantly less likely to react by pinching you.

When picking up a hermit crab, gently grab ahold of its shell with your other hand and lift it while placing your other hand underneath it. Keeping your hand flat or wearing gloves will provide protection.

However, the pinchers might grab hold of your skin or make it through the material and reach the skin, but it’ll hurt significantly less going through the glove first.

Usually, when hermit crabs become comfortable with being handled and learn to trust you, you won’t have to worry so much about being pinched by them.

However, pinching a lot is a defensive characteristic that many hermit crabs possess.