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Hermit Crabs – The Exotic Pet

Land hermit crabs have grown in popularity as pets and will provide many years of enjoyment if given proper care and habitat. Knowing the facts about your Land Hermit Crab’s needs will make the difference between a pet that lives for 6 months and a pet that lives for 30 years or more.

They are named for their habit of retreating into their shells and hiding, although, unlike human hermits, they are actually social animals that thrive in groups. Hermit crabs are decapod crustaceans, meaning they have 10 legs and an exoskeleton, but are more closely related to lobsters than to true crabs.

These creatures do not grow their own shells, but must use the abandoned shells of other sea creatures. As they grow, they constantly move into more spacious shells. Owners should ensure that shells of various sizes are available for their pets.

In order to grow, Earth Hermit Crabs must shed their exoskeleton, which they do by molting underground. This is why it is vital to provide at least 6 inches of wet sand and coir for the creature to burrow into. It is also absolutely essential not to disturb the molting crab during this stressful period. Inexperienced owners worry that something is wrong with their pet when it disappears underground for anywhere from 2 weeks (for tiny babies) to 3 months (for large adults), but this is a completely natural and necessary process. Very few hermit crabs can survive above ground.

The most common of the land hermit crabs is called the Caribbean or Purple Pincher. While most of its front legs are bright orange, its large stinger is purple, hence the name. In the wild, it is found on beaches from Florida to Venezuela. Although it hatches in the ocean, when mature it cannot completely submerge in water or it will drown. This is due to its modified gills, which must be kept moist, but which breathe oxygen from air with high humidity.

The amazing creatures are omnivores, meaning they eat almost anything they come across. For this reason, it is important to keep toxic material out of their habitat. Even the paint flakes from painted shells will be eaten. In their natural habitat, Purple Pinchers are used to having access to a wide variety of foods and prefer them slightly less than fresh. This is because they are scavengers whose job it is to clean the environment. They will eat everything from leaf litter, to rotting fruit, to sand dollars, to dead fish.

While they get along, they sometimes fight over territory – such as a favorite shelter – or shells. They are very particular about their shells and tend to be more confident when they inhabit a colorful shell.

Salt plays an important role in the Purple Pincher’s life. The eggs burst when they come into contact with salt water, releasing the larvae into the ocean. Hermit crabs are loaded into salt water before molting so they can release their old exoskeleton. Not just any salt will do – it has to be aquarium salt. Table salt has iodine, which is toxic to crabs. They also need access to fresh water, but cannot tolerate chlorinated water. Shells are an ideal container for both salt and fresh water, as some of the shell’s calcium will add essential nutrients to the hermit’s diet.

Each land hermit has a distinct personality. Some are more outgoing than others. Some are insanely honest. If a Purple Pincher ever gets hold of your finger, the way to get it to go is to run some warm water over the nail.

Knowing as much as possible about these fascinating creatures allows the owner to provide an almost ideal habitat. This is the best way to ensure a long life for your hermit crabs.

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