Why shouldn’t I buy a hermit crab?

Thousands upon thousands of hermit crabs are stolen from the wild every year and forced to live in cramped, arid, barren cages, where they slowly suffocate to death because they need high humidity to survive. Instead of purchasing a crab and contributing to this cruel trade, why not adopt one of the thousands of crabs in need from someone who can’t provide adequately for him or her? Land hermit crabs do not reproduce very successfully in captivity – evidence that despite our best efforts, we can never make a captive life as fulfilling as a wild one. Please help end this vicious cycle; if you can provide a loving home for a crab, adopt.

Please watch this brand new video from PETA exposing for the very first time what hermit crabs endure between being plucked from the wild and sold in tiny cages:

What’s wrong with painted shells?

Painted shells often contain toxins that when ingested by hermit crabs can actually kill the crabs. But it gets worse. As PETA’s video above shows, hermit crabs are forcibly removed from their natural shells, even having these shells cracked with a manual metal lever press, to be forced to live in painted shells. Check out the video below to take another look inside the industry and see how hermit crabs are forced into these unnatural, deadly shells before going up for sale.

Hermit crabs are social animals who exhibit teamwork and need companionship!

Hermit crabs are social animals who exhibit teamwork and need companionship!

Can I set a crab free?

No. Hermit crabs can only survive in tropical climates with a stable 70 degree+ temperature and 70% humidity year-round. Your crab will die quickly if set free and left to fend for himself against the elements.

I live in Florida/Central America/the Caribbean. Can I set my crab free?

We highly advise against setting any crabs free who have been in captivity. They are transported hundreds or thousands of miles to the point of sale, and if introduced into an unfamiliar location, they are unlikely to find a colony of their species that they can join. Captive crabs could also carry diseases that threaten native wildlife and may have lost their immunity to diseases that they’ll be exposed to living in the wild again. The best thing anyone can do for a captive crab is read our care guide and ensure that they are providing as fulfilling of a captive home as possible for him or her. If all else fails and the guardian cannot provide for the crab, check out the Hermit Crab Association’s adoptions board for a wonderful network of people serious about hermit crab care who are helping to connect adopters with crabs in need.

How long do hermit crabs live?

In the wild, hermit crabs can live 30 or more years, but sadly, in captivity they usually only live a few months to a year, succumbing to suffocation, poisoning by chlorinated tap water or painted shells, and inability to molt. Please, only adopt a hermit crab if you can provide humidity, substrate for molting, companionship, and a safe and nourishing environment.

Do hermit crabs really feel pain?

Yes! In fact, a recent study found that crabs nursed and rubbed at wounds when injured. Furthermore, when crabs were shocked, their decision to leave their shell (which they need as protection and will only vacate under dire circumstances) was based on the intensity of shock and the value of the shell to them – demonstrating that they can indeed weigh the importance of conflicting needs in their response to pain.

How does the hermit crab trade affect the environment?

Hermit crabs live in borrowed shells, meaning they only reside in shells that other animals like snails have vacated. As the hermit crab trade grows, more and more crabs living in captivity need shells (an assortment of several shells for each individual crab), which are plucked from the wild and deprive wild crabs of homes, part of what has been called the “hermit crab housing crisis.” At any given time, 30 percent of wild crabs are inhabiting shells that are too small for them, and after their growth phase in the spring, this can jump to nearly 60 percent. As problem solvers, these little guys have even resorted to glass bottles and odd objects as shell substitutes when a suitable shell can’t be located. The problem of dwindling homes for wild crabs is so great that there’s already a company trying to use a 3D printer to create artificial shells, though they haven’t yet measured up to the original in the eyes of the crabs.

Ok, so I shouldn’t buy a hermit crab for my child. What pet would be a good “starter pet,” then?

Quite simply, none at all. Every animal from the hermit crab to the rabbit to the African cichlid has complex needs, and no animal should be purchased on a whim and put under the sole responsibility of a child who may not fully understand those needs. You may think that a fish is a pretty basic, easy-to-care-for pet, but did you know that fish need regulated temperatures, regular water cleanings, and a constant monitoring of aquarium nutrient levels that are only properly maintained after the tank has “cycled” for weeks to develop a population of beneficial bacteria? Unfortunately, most fish are purchased and thrown in a bowl to perish. The message here is that every animal you adopt should be a carefully planned decision, and children should be joint caretakers of these animals, with parental supervision through the whole journey. Animals are not trinkets, and the least we can do for them is take their care and well-being seriously.

This is so awful! How can I get involved to stop this cruel industry?

Thank you for speaking up for hermit crabs! The best thing you can do is explain the hermit crab plight to everyone you know, and educate hermit crab guardians on proper crab care using our guide at this page. We also have leaflets available that you can print out or order and take to your local boardwalk or outside a pet store this spring and summer and educate people about the cruelty behind the hermit crab trade. Please make sure to stay on public property at all times and be courteous to everyone you meet! Another great initiative is to talk with local businesses about ending their sale of hermit crabs; visit our resource on this here. Lastly, if you don’t have time to get active, consider donating to help us expand our work!

Hermit crabs are quite skilled climbers, and their habitats must be outfitted with plenty of climbing accessories.

Hermit crabs are quite skilled climbers, and their habitats must be outfitted with plenty of climbing accessories.

How did you get involved with hermit crab rescue and advocacy? Why hermit crabs?

Good question! Click here to find out.

What do I need to know before I can adopt a hermit crab?

If you’re looking to adopt a crab in need (never buy!), click here for our care guide. Hermit crabs need companionship, plenty of climbing room, substrate to bury themselves in for molting, humidity, warm temperatures, extra shells, fresh and salt water (dechlorinated, acquarium salt only), and much, much more!

How can I tell if my crab is a male or female?

When handling your crab, hold the crab (carefully) up toward the light, shell opening on the bottom, facing you, and allow the crab to stretch outward and downward so that you can see his or her underside. Check the pair of walking legs farthest back on the leg segment closest to the body for 2 small dots called gonopores. If the gonopores are present, your crab is a female. Check out this guide for a visual. Do not pull or force the crab to come out of his shell at any point. Crabs will allow themselves to be ripped apart before being removed from their shells. Wait until he or she is comfortable with coming out on his own.

Do I have to separate the males and females to avoid babies?

Hermit crabs lay their eggs at the seashore only. They don’t breed in captivity because despite our best efforts, a captive life is never as fulfilling to a crab as a natural life. You can keep males and females together without problem because they will not breed in a tank.

What’s the best thing about hermit crabs?

To me – their teamwork, hands down. Check out this great video, and read more about how hermit crabs are so sophisticated that they even line up in order of size to exchange shells efficiently.