How To Keep Your Hermit crabs Active and Healthy
If you are wondering why you never see your hermit crabs eat, play, drink, or bathe then following these tips may be helpful for you. Once you understand more about them and their needs, you may be able to encourage more activity and enjoy witnessing the full spectrum of their normal unique and playful behavior.
1. Proper environment - Hermit crabs need optimal tank conditions in order to be comfortable and active. Check the temperature, humidity and odor of the tank to be sure these are ideal. If the tank is clean with clean water ponds, appropriate temp and humidity, then consider the tank decorations. If there are many hermit crab friendly elements in the tank - i.e. items they can easily climb on or hide under, space to walk around and importantly, burrow and dig tunnels - it will encourage their normal behavior. They love climbing, so having elements to climb is crucial.
The hard smooth plastic huts that they can't climb on, painted cholla and brightly colored fake sand, pebbles and gravel are not well-suited to them (they can't burrow properly in the artificial or altered substrate and these are also potentially harmful because of the chemicals or dyes in the paint and the rough textures breaking the tips of their claws). The hermit crabs may not interact favorably with, or survive very long in those environments.
Add a touch of home to their tank: use natural substrate, branches, unpainted cholla wood (they love this) shells, sand, leaves, vines, moss, natural coconut huts, sand dollars, etc. so they can climb, lounge and feel at home. Plastic leaves and plants are customary as live plants are harder to maintain in the tank conditions, although keeping live plants adds an extra favorable element to the crabitat (Note:ensure these are safe plants and wood, non-toxic to the hermit crabs).
**Maintain variety in their tank: As scavengers and shell hunters, hermit crabs are natural born explorers, this behavior favors their survival. They seem to get bored seeing the exact same items in the same place, and may become less active, especially if the tank is small. With larger tanks, they have more to explore and different places to play and hang out and exercise so they may remain content longer. Re-arranging the items, recycling and adding new elements to the tank keeps the environment fresh and interesting. Creating a new environment may increase activity alone as they explore where everything is and decide their new favorite spots to kick their fellow crabmates out of. Check out Pinterest for new ideas and inspiration for your crabitat.
Note: some very shy crabs and new crabs hide even with perfect conditions and some crabs are very active even with suboptimal conditions.
2. Understand their natural activity cycles - hermit crabs are nocturnal so they might sleep all day and be more active in the evening and overnight. However, sometimes they will be awake and active during the day and take naps. Let them establish their own schedule. If you don't disturb them while they are sleeping they will rest more comfortably in your crabitat. Try to engage them in the evening or other times when they are awake. To recognize when they are sleeping, pay attention to antennae movement and antennule (the shorter bent antennae) position -usually these will be lowered and still. Often they will partially withdraw into their shells. Try not to take them out from them from their hiding places although sometimes it makes sense and you may need to do this. Respecting their autonomy and normal activity as much as possible helps to build their trust with you.
3. Social stimulation - you may be surprised how much more active your crabs are when they have playmates. They will keep each other company and give each other confidence to be more active and less anxious around humans. It is normal for them to be around many other unrelated hermit crabs in the wild, so this will help them adjust to your environment. The more the merrier- as much as your tank space permits; be sure not to overcrowd them. If you have very few crabs then you can also provide stimulation to them by taking them out of the crabitat, gently handling them and letting them explore and climb on you or in safe locations of your home. This is stressful to them, but it will become less so as they get used to you. They will soon realize you don't have an interest in harming them and will feel more comfortable emerging to explore. Some crab owners don't endorse handling them because it is stressful to them, both physiologically due to the environment change and because they are afraid of you - it will be obvious that many hermit crabs will dislike being handled. However, it is likely that they can learn to be comfortable, especially if you do the next thing on the list.
4. Bribe them with gifts - Offer them treats during the evening (or if they are awake during the day) which are different from their actual meal. To do this very slowly place the food or drop the food as near to them as safely possible, you can use a spoon to avoid any possibility of being pinched, and leave it on the substrate. If they are in a hiding spot, leave it at the entrance. If you have a regular feeding time, this works even better (the food should be left overnight at least to give them time to eat). Then they will start to emerge at that time with the expectation of food. Otherwise, they will appreciate the treats you give them and start to welcome you and approach instead of run from you. They will climb on your hand in the crabitat and you can lift them out, rather than just taking them out unwillingly. Note: when they are terrified they may not accept the treats you give or eat in front of you even if they are hungry so you have to be patient and consistent.
5. Ignore them - This works if you find things to do in the tank around and near them without actually touching them or bothering them. They will start to get used to your hand being in the tank in their proximity and won't immediately run or hide after a while.
These tips are all based on subjective experiences - many crab keepers may have other advice to offer regarding the best way to maintain active hermit crabs. Understand that some crabs are innately more curious and friendly while others may be more anxious and fearful. Always use discretion and good judgement, read and research reputable sources, know that even reputable sources in the hermit crab community may have differing points of view and pay attention to any cues from your actual pets about the best ways to interact with them.
Good luck with your awesome pets!
**Post updated April 4, 2017 and April 20, 2017, January 21, 2018