The Care & Maintenance of a Hermit Crab

Okay, last week when I wrote in a comment on the pet post that hermit crabs make great pets I wasn’t being completely honest. They do make good pets, but if you are a hermit crab enthusiast or purists, you may feel a bit overwhelmed with the care required to provide a happy home for hermit crab.

I admitted last week I was the one to lobby for a pet crab, but it was only because out of all the possibilities, hermit crabs seemed like the best way to fulfill my parental obligation without actually having to exert any effort. One way or another I knew my kids would brow beat me into getting some sort of critter. I figured I had better get out in front of this potentially disastrous situation and steer it into more parent-friendly territory. Hence my ingenious plan of allowing my children to acquire hermit crabs.

That way when my daughter cries, “Why won’t you ever let us have a puppy?! You never let us have a pet!” I can say, “What are you talking about? I let you have pet hermit crabs.”

What I didn’t know the summer I strolled into that souvenir shop/ice cream parlor/hermit crab haven was the long list of requirements that came with those tiny, hidden, narcoleptic critters. I was surprised to learn that these animals, which can take perfectly good care of themselves in the wild, need much attending to once domesticated. If you want to be a good hermit crab pet owner, anyway.

The clerk at the store went over a long list of instructions and even sent us home with reading materials on how to care for our new pet crabs. In addition to the usual give them food and water, we were instructed to provide a tank large enough to grant two crabs (they didn’t like to live alone) a comfortable abode, to provide a gravely or rocky bottom to the cage (they didn’t like smooth surfaces), to include items they would have found in their natural habitat (such as twigs and branches), and to place a clam shell in the cage or provide calcium supplements (clam shells provide the calcium needed). But that was not all. Oh, no, that was not all. We also have to give the crabs weekly baths and ample opportunity for exercise.

The saleswoman even sold us hermit crab treats, actually labeled crab cookies, and shared with us the crabs’ favorite snack, Honey Nut Cheerios (not to be confused with any other iteration of Cheerio). Who knew hermit crabs had a sweet tooth? And while the whole thing tended toward the absurd, I had to believe the woman. She really seemed to know her crabs. She even took two of the largest hermit crabs – about the size of a conch shell – I had ever seen out of the cage to demonstrate how they recognized the sound of her voice. And, sure enough the crabs poked their heads (or eyes – I don’t know if they technically have heads) out of their shell as soon as she started to speak.

She assured us the same relationship was possible with any handler as long as the handler spent time with the crabs, took them out for exercise, and dutifully cared for them.

We earnestly tried to follow her detailed instructions for at least the first two weeks, but, honestly, who has time to bathe hermit crabs? I’ve already admitted I barely have time to bathe my own kids. And, while I don’t doubt the woman had a clear view into the hermit crab psyche, the two we brought home didn’t seem to follow any of the rules. The woman at the store told us hermit crabs were social creatures, which I guess explains why you find them piled up in the cages at the pet store, but Shelly and Little Timmy didn’t really hit it off when we got them home. Whenever Little Timmy tried to cuddle up with Shelly, she would up and move over to the opposite end of the cage. And, while the prevailing pet literature may say crabs like to roam free from their cages, getting much longed for exercise and warding off the apparent obesity epidemic that has even affected this population in our country, all Little Timmy and Shelly ever did was run away to hide behind the couch.

We tried as best we could to be good hermit crab owners, but it’s really hard to tell a happy hermit crab from a depressed one. I can say, though, Shelly and Little Timmy are both still alive. That, I suppose, says something.

(Photo: Flickr/Kradlum)

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