Hi! I’m Laura. Growing up, I spent every summer at the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, with my grandparents. One of the highlights of the trip was trekking down to the big seashell store and picking out a hermit crab or two. We’d select a sponge and a few shells, fill a small cage with some gravel and a shiny plastic palm tree, and haul everything home. I played with my crabs every day. They fascinated me–their beady eyes, their purple claws, the way they scurried so fast across every surface. I loved them. Unfortunately, I never learned about their highly complex needs, and every year, my hermit crabs died.
Fast forward many years. I had moved to Norfolk, Virginia, right next door to Virginia Beach, where thousands of crabs are sold on the boardwalk every year. Strolling down the boardwalk, I saw store after store selling hermit crab after hermit crab, each plucked from among his friends and handed over to gleeful children, who’d toss him into a little cage and swing him around as they pranced down the boardwalk. I was struck with sympathy for these crabs, who’d been captured from their natural home, shoved into a rowdy, crowded, loud environment, and then purchased by people, like my child self, who had no idea of how to keep them alive.
I began to research. I learned that hermit crabs live naturally for up to 30 years, but usually only a few months in captivity. I learned that hermit crabs need humidity, dechlorinated water, substrate for molting, and friends. I learned that they rarely breed in captivity, so every single land hermit crab sold has been violently plucked from his or her home and forced into a strange, terrifying environment. I knew I had to help.
My partner, Rachel, and I rescued our first crab, Huey, shortly thereafter. We did the best we could to set up his tank just like I had read. Huey went down to molt quickly, but unfortunately, he never came back up. It likely was the trauma he suffered through his capture and dismal life at the souvenir shop, combined with our lack of experience, despite our best efforts, in providing for the complex needs of hermit crabs.
We couldn’t give up when we knew how many hermit crabs were in need of rescue. We continued learning and set up a 30 gallon crabitat with regulated temperature and humidity and lots of climbing options. We brought home Truvia and Splenda, two boardwalk rejects, and they began to thrive. They made it through a couple of molting cycles with no problem. It was so fascinating to see how attached they were to each other, spending most of their time huddled together despite all the room they had to romp and explore.
Two years later, we had the opportunity to adopt again and expand our crabby family. Another hermit crab had been languishing in a small cage on an office desk and needed a home. Stevia joined our crabitat, and we were shocked then to find out about crab aggression. Stevia jumped on Truvia’s shell and began to emit an odd chirping sound, possibly in attempt to steal her shell. We had to separate them and approach it slowly, but within weeks, the three were the best of friends. We noticed distinct personalities shining – Splenda was more of a recluse than the other two, and Stevia was the most adventurous. Once they established the “pecking order,” they were able to flourish in their colony.
Soon, we upgraded to a 50 gallon crabitat with climbing nets and even a large crab tree with plenty of hideaways. We were ready to accommodate two more crabs in need. We learned of Agave, who had a devoted guardian who tried his best to provide for all her needs, but she lived alone without companionship at a car dealership. We also found Molasses, our largest crab, on the internet, living in a tiny cage with low humidity, nowhere to climb or hide, and toxic tap water for drinking. The cage reeked of old food, and she had no way to escape, likely within weeks of dying.
We first set Molasses up in her own isolation tank to help nurture her back to health. Her shell was way too large for her, and she didn’t have the strength to lift herself and her shell up as she tried to climb. She stayed at the bottom of the tank for the first few days until she found a new shell that she liked, and within a few more days, she blossomed into an active, curious crab. Agave and Molasses both joined our crabitat and quickly made friends with the others. During the day, most of the crabs would pile up on top of each other to rest, and at night, they roamed around the tank, exploring crevices, climbing up to the roof, and rearranging shells and sand.
Heartbreakingly, after several years of thriving, one by one our crabs became ill and passed away. We did everything we could–adjusting temperature and humidity levels, feeding them with Q-tips when they were too weak to eat, assisting them getting in and out of the water dishes, and more. But despite our best efforts, these wild animals could not withstand the challenges of captivity. I frantically sought vet opinions, but no one knew what to do, and no one was even willing to help us with humanely euthanizing them when we thought their suffering had become too great.The agonizing experience of losing our beloved family of hermit crabs after the great lengths we took to provide them the best captive life possible reinforced, once again, for me that they never were meant to be ripped from the wild. And even though they received love and the best possible care with us, there are tens of thousands more crabs entering the hermit crab trade and perishing in tiny cages from suffocation or poisoning every year. I embarked on an advocacy journey through this website and my local outreach efforts in my hometown in Virginia to help prevent other crabs from suffering this fate. I will continue to fight for their freedom, year after year, in memory of my hermie family. I hope you’ll find this site useful, and most importantly, I hope it will inspire you to join the crucial work to end the plight of the hermit crabs.