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Facts You May Not Have Known About Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs are found both on land and in water. Whether land or sea crabs, they are crustaceans that live in a shell shed by another animal. This article is about the specifics of “land” or “tree” hermit crabs, not the ocean varieties.

They actually start life as fish and evolve into life on land. These small crabs start in the ocean, like sea hermits. While in the water as babies, hermits begin as larvae called zoeae and grow into aquatic crabs, swimming and breathing underwater through gills. As adults, they can no longer breathe underwater, but still breathe through gills that must be kept moist to prevent suffocation. Adult crabs have lost their ability to swim.

Their tail shape is determined by their first shell. A hermit’s back end curves to fit and hold onto the shell in which it lives. The shape of their first shell is very important and will influence their choice of shell for the rest of their lives.

They “go number one” under their eyes. Hermit crabs excrete urine through glands at the base of their antennae. Which means they “pee” through their faces.

Their name is a misnomer. Although these animals are commonly called “hermit crabs”, they are not actually true crabs because they do not have hard abdominal armor and are not hermits because they live in large groups of about a hundred crabs in the wild.

Hermit crabs have been bred in captivity, but this is not where the pet store stock comes from. All available pet stock has been collected from beaches around the world where these animals are native. Most domestic hermit crabs in the US come from the Western Atlantic coast.

They don’t have vocal cords, but they still “speak”. These cute little crustaceans make chirping sounds by rubbing their legs together. This is called “stridulating” and works similar to the noise you get when you rub your hands together. They can be very expressive.

They melt. To grow, this crustacean must go through the process of burying itself, shedding its old exoskeleton, eating it, and re-emerging. This is called molting, and the whole thing can take weeks. Without somewhere safe to bury themselves for weeks about once or twice a year, a hermit will die.

Only six of their ten legs are generally visible. Although hermits have ten spider-like legs, they keep four back inside their shell to anchor them and keep the inside of the shell clean.

The legs can be “thrown away” without killing the crab. If a crab is stressed or scared, it may “drop” a leg to distract a threat so it can escape. Sometimes they do it when they are sick. They will develop a new hind leg furrow in subsequent molts.

Hermits poop. Their owners sometimes wonder if they do because the crabs’ poop is small and blends in with bedding materials. These guys either defecate inside their shell and then pull it out or come out the side of their shell.

“Hermies” have long been loved as short-lived pets that are easy to care for. In fact, they can live up to 30 years or so in captivity when properly cared for. Pet stores routinely provide poor pet care to hermit crabs and pass poor pet care information on to owners, resulting in short lifespans. As a much misunderstood pet, they have a strong base of devotees who distribute good care information online.

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