“Hey man, I’ll give you a deal. A bucket of ping pong balls for $5. Win your little girl a goldfish.”
The sales pitch varies from one carny to the next, but the idea is the same — get a smoking deal to win your child a pet neither of you really wanted. Then it’s followed by a familiar routine of begging, pleading and promises to care for the creature you haven’t yet won.
Incidentally, my parents never gave in to the requests to play games for live prizes, which were usually goldfish. The general rule was if it had to live in a cage or a tank it was not coming home. I always thought I’d be that kind of parent, too, but a guinea pig and two hermit crabs later, and I’m certain that’s not the case. To be fair, the hermit crabs came home with Vayda from dad’s house after a night at the carnival. I’m still wondering, when did they update the prizes?
Goldfish are one thing, but hermit crabs are another level of commitment. Although carnivals, fairs and souvenir shops near the beach are trying to pass them off as the everyman’s pet, they are far from it. Oh, and that starter kit that came with your new pet is basically death trap, perfect for ensuring slow suffocation as their delicate gills dry out.
So how do you take care of your new friends without condemning them to a slow and miserable death? Consider what’s available in their natural habitats and make sure they have access to the resources they need for survival.
- Housing. As I mentioned above, the clear plastic critter-carriers with snap-on vented tops are not safe homes for hermit crabs. Hermit crabs breathe through modified gills, which means they need humid air to breathe. Hermit crabs can’t breathe air and they will drown in water, so the best way to maintain humidity is to provide an ideal enclosure. These include aquariums and marine terrariums that are strong enough to hold wet sand with covers that allow some ventilation and keep the crabs and humidity in. It can take months for a hermit crab’s gills to dry out enough to cause suffocation, however, their ability to breathe will start to deteriorate well before death.
- Water sources. Hermit crabs require both freshwater and saltwater water sources to survive. Saltwater should be made using sea salt sold for marine fish and crustaceans. Both the saltwater and freshwater need to be treated with water-conditioning fluid to neutralize any chlorine in the water — city water contains chlorine, which is toxic to hermit crabs. You may also choose to use bottled spring water instead of water from your tap to avoid chlorine exposure. The water dishes should be big enough for your hermit crabs to submerge themselves in, but not so deep that they can drown. Use nonmetallic containers for water dishes.
- Sponges. It’s important to provide your hermit crabs with sponges in both their salt and freshwater dishes. The sponges provide a convenient safety raft in each water dish to prevent drowning. It’s also a good idea to place wet sponges around their habitat to help maintain a humidity level of 75%.
- Sand. Sand is preferable to rocks to line the bottom of your hermit crab enclosure. When your crabs molt, they will need a safe place to burrow. That’s why it’s a good idea to provide at least 3-6 inches of sand for them to burrow into. The best kind of sand to use is one that provides a source of calcium for your crabs.
- Calcium. Offering cuttlebones, oyster shells, eggshells and calcium blocks are other ways to provide needed calcium.
- Food. Hermit crabs are omnivores, which means they need both meat and plant food sources in their diet. It’s a good idea to feed your crabs a good commercial food and also offer them snacks such as coconut, romaine lettuce, apple, white bread, popcorn with sea salt or without salt, peanut butter, fish and chicken on alternate days. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before feeding them to your crab. Meats can be served raw or cooked, but avoid those with preservatives (this includes salt). Uneaten food needs to be removed daily to avoid spoilage.
- Heater. Hermit crabs like the temperature to range from 70-75F, so putting a heater under one end of your tank is a good idea. Heat lamps and full spectrum lights are not recommended because they can negatively impact the humidity in the tank.
- Bathe as needed. During different times of the year, your hermit crab’s bathing needs will change. However, year-round a bathing routine is important to ensure necessary moisture. In humid climates, bathe your hermit crab twice a week during the summer and once a week during all other seasons. In climates that are arid or when dry heat is being used in your home, bathe your crab every other day. You can also mist your hermit crabs daily to substitute for bathing.
- Provide extra shells. After hermit crabs molt, they move into larger shells. You’ll need to provide at least three options per crab. The shells should be larger than their current shells and the openings should be the size of their larger pincher.
- Give your crabs friends. In their natural environments, hermit crabs live in groups of a few dozen to over a hundred. They thrive on company and are more active when they live in pairs.
- Provide things to climb on and hide under. Hermit crabs love to climb. Provide plenty of branches, rocks and coral to climb on. They also enjoy hidey-huts to relax in during the day.
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