Not too long ago, I wrote an article for Money-Fax.com that featured this paragraph:
Hermit crabs are fantastic little creatures. You might even have fond memories of fishing them out of the ocean yourself or keeping them in your elementary school classroom. Hermit crabs are popular, and with good reason. They are just about the least expensive terrarium dweller you can hold.
A small plastic container, a fish bowl, or an old tank you find at a garage sale – almost anything can serve as a hermit crab habitat. Fill the bottom with sand and rocks and place a tray of water and a few extra shells larger than the one the crab currently inhabits in the tank. Again, only $10 spent at your local Wal-Mart or pet store can set you up for life of the crab.
The crab itself will cost anywhere from $5 – $15 and their food will cost about $3 per can. While that may sound like a lot for a hermit crab, these cans last quite awhile. All in all, you could easily have a hermit crab join your family for an initial cost of $20 – $40, depending on what you choose to purchase. – http://money-fax.com/4-inexpensive-family-pet-ideas/
A few weeks ago, however, we went to the beach and caught ourselves a few hermit crabs with our four year old. Remembering my own article, I thought, we should keep these – it would be a fun starter pet and kiddo has already been begging for a new pet. (We have two dogs, but you know kids, they want tiny creatures to pester and nurture.)
So I headed up to the gift shop and bought a hermit crab kit. $25. It came with a free crab, but I told the lady at the counter that we had two downstairs under the dock.
“Oh, those are saltwater. They’ll die if you take them home and don’t have a saltwater aquarium. You should probably take the free one anyway and let those ones go. These are freshwater brought from Florida.”
Then, she informed me that it’s best to buy an extra one. They are community creatures.
“Sure, let’s do it. We’ll let the other two go and take these two home.”
So, I took the little plastic container downstairs, full of gravel, a shell, a sponge, and food – plus two tiny crabs.
We explained to kiddo that the others needed to be free and she had no problem with that, after all, we were taking these fun ones home and she understood that the others had come from the ocean and these two from a shop. She asked about extra shells, because we’ve read Eric Carle’s Hermit Crab book a thousand times.
We set the crabs up in the house when we got home from the beach that day and made plans to do some research and visit the pet store within the week. We knew the plastic container was too small for our comfort – but we thought we were just being those people who spoil their pets. I had no idea. No. Idea.
Nerd that I am, naturally, I bought a book. I was a little disappointed that it was a “for dummies” title, because I’m a book snob and they seem so over marketed and written – well – for dummies. BUT, they are actually great starting points for any kind of research on anything. They are simplistic, concise, and give you the terms you need to dive deeper. Terms you wouldn’t know to look up otherwise. Like wikipedia, but more reliable, except the links aren’t necessarily up to date.
So it turns out, hermit crabs ARE community creatures. In the wild they live with hundreds of other crabs. It also turns out that the smallest container you want for these guys is a ten gallon tank for two small crabs. Cheap guru that I am, I could have gotten one from a garage sale, but I didn’t. I gave my sister our unused 20 gallon tank when we moved and my niece’s and nephews now have a tiny pet turtle. I went the lazy route and bought a brand new ten gallon at PetsMart. $30. (If you’re keeping track – remember my article peaked at a $40 expense to keep a crab alive. So far in this story we’re at $55 pre-tax.)
EVOLUTION OF A CRABITAT
I bought more gravel to cover the bottom of the tank. $10. I bought a crab shack because they need a place to hide. $8. A fake plant my daughter loved to make “it all so beautiful.” $4 (Actually, she paid for that one.) I was feeling pretty good about this terrarium. Really good.
Then, I served pinterest. I know. Pinterest!
It led me to a lot of websites, blogs, and hermit crab advocates. I discovered that I wasn‘t supposed to have gravel in the tank. They don’t like gravel. They like soil substrate. They like to bury themselves. Not just like, they NEED. Hermit crabs molt and to do so, you need 6 inches of soil for them to dive into. Also, they’re climbers. They want tree limbs. Also, each crab needs its own hiding place, so one crab shack won’t cut it. They want to live together but need their own bedrooms. Who knew?
Also, they need a fresh water pool and a salt water pool. So you need two kinds of water conditioners. And two kinds of pools. And a mister to keep their climate humid enough because they have evolved gills – they can’t breathe in dry air.
By this time, I lost track of itemizing – but one trip to PetCo later and I’d spent another $70 or so. While I was there, I also bought a wheat-germ plant that they had for sale for cats, but is actually good for crabs, which the workers didn’t know, I had just discovered this in all my internet surfing and wild book reading at the library.
I still need a heater, but I can’t afford one at the moment. We’re in Texas, so I set the tank outside if I think they’re getting too cold – but come winter, these guys are having another $50-$100 spent on them.
On the plus side: I think they’ll live. In captivity – because we con people into $25 habitats that slowly kill the crab – they live 3 months to 3 years. In the wild, they live up to 30 years. We’re shooting for a longer lifespan here. We’re also using this as an educational project… we’re building an ecosystem. Soon, we’ll add rolly pollies (they help keep the terrarium clean and co-habitate well with the hermies… again, who knew?)
(Additional notes: hermit crabs can eat from your kitchen and like a wide variety of things in their diet that include meat, vegetables, and fruits. We have begun a notebook compiling these lists. One of ours has already changed shells twice – because he’s indecisive, not because he’s growing so much – and apparently this is common so it’s good to have not just one or two shells but a wide variety of empties at their disposal.)