Hermit crabs are crustaceans that belong to the family Paguroidea. Unlike true crabs, hermit varieties have a soft, vulnerable abdomen. In order to protect their soft bodies from predators, they use abandoned shells of other marine animals, mostly snails. It is this habit of living in shells of other organisms that has given them their name. They carry their 'houses' wherever they go. Once they outgrow their shells, they discard it and look for new ones. This behavior gives rise to competition for shells among the members of this species. Over the years, these animals have gained popularity as pets. However, to ensure their good health in captivity, it is important to provide them with an ideal habitat.
Habitat in the Wild
There are almost 500 different species of hermit crabs. Some are aquatic, whereas there are others that are terrestrial. The habitat of aquatic hermit crabs ranges from the shallow waters of the coral reefs and shores to the depths of the bottom of the sea. The best place to look for them is the inter-tidal areas, for example, the tide pools where a large number of plankton can be found. The terrestrial forms are usually found in the tropics. There is also the Caribbean hermit crab that is known to be capable of climbing trees.
Hermit Crabs as Pets
For long, it was believed that hermit crabs had a short life in captivity. However, as people are learning more about pet crab care, it is found that these crustaceans can live for as long as thirty years in captivity. What makes them fascinating as pets is the fact that they do not require an elaborate setup to be raised. However, one needs to understand their natural habitat and provide similar conditions for them in captivity. Of the various species, the crabs that are most widely kept as pets are the Caribbean and the Ecuadorian.
Making the Habitat
These crabs need a lot of space to climb and move around. Never use a small plastic container to make an enclosure. For two small to medium-sized crabs, one should use a 10 gallon aquarium. Also ensure that the enclosure has a tight lid as hermit crabs are famed escape artists. It is important to keep the enclosure warm. However, to achieve this end, never place it on the window sill or anywhere under direct sunlight as this may raise the temperature of the enclosure to dangerously high levels.
The most preferred substrates for the habitat are sand and coconut fiber. The fiber is ground finely so that it feels more like soil. These two are the best substrates as they are convenient to clean and the crabs find them easy to burrow through. Many crab owners choose to use a mixture of the two. Another preferred material is crushed coral. One should strictly avoid using gravel and wood chips for the substrate.
Proper humidity levels are very important for hermit crabs. These animals have modified gills with which they breathe even when on land. However, they have to breathe in moist air, or else their gills can dry up and they would suffocate. Hence, it is important to maintain the relative humidity levels of their habitat between 70% and 80%.
The appropriate amount of humidity can be ensured by moistening the substrate using misters. Moisten the low-lying and middle areas of the substrate. Leave the higher areas dry. Bubble stones made from airstones and airline tubings, and air pumps that are used for aquariums can also be employed for maintaining proper moisture levels in the environment of the crab. Install a hygrometer to read the humidity levels regularly. Although it is important to maintain the right levels of humidity, take care that the substrate is not too damp as this will create health problems for your crustacean.
If you want your crab to be happy and healthy, maintain the temperature of the enclosure within a range of 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Changes in the temperature will immediately reflect in the metabolism of the crab. Regular exposure to lower temperatures will slow down the crab's metabolism. The crab will become weak and lack energy. At very high temperatures, your crab can suffer irreversible damage.
Although many people do not use special lights for their hermit crab habitat, lights can be useful in maintaining a proper temperature. However, take care of the wattage of the bulb that you use. For small enclosures, use bulbs of lower wattage whereas for larger tanks, use bulbs of higher wattage. For a 10 gallon tank, a 15-watt bulb should suffice.
Hermit crabs love to climb. Hence, decorations and accessories can be used to meet this behavior of theirs. Accessories like ceramic pots, fake plants, vines, driftwood and branches, rocks, and wooden or plastic shelters could be kept in the tank. Also put a dish of freshwater and another dish of saltwater in the tank. The dishes should be big enough for the crabs to submerge themselves into and also easy enough for them to climb in and out of. The freshwater dish should have spring water or de-chlorinated water. The saltwater should be made out of the spring water or de-chlorinated water with a special aquarium salt mix. Do not use regular table salt to make the salt water.
Given the popularity of these crustaceans as pets, getting supplies for a hermit crab habitat is not difficult. These crabs are easy to take care of. Just as there is pet care associated with any pet, one needs to tend to the habitat requirements of one's hermit crab. If you are keen on having a pet, then be sure that you are ready to provide all the care that the animal requires.