Giving Hermit Crabs a Full, Long Life

Trammel warns that even with the best of care, the crabs for sale may have been too poorly treated to survive. Often the first thing they'll do when put into a proper habitat is dig and stay underground for a few weeks. "Rule number one is don't ever dig your hermit crab up," she says. "If they're molting, they need to molt, and if they're de-stressing, then they need to de-stress. They'll come up on their own."

Following that rule can take serious patience. When Ormes' crabs molt she doesn't even peek for the first six weeks, and Jon's most recent molt took three months.

You'll need to offer new seashells as the crabs grow, and they can be picky. Despite a range of expensive choices, Jonathan was stubborn about hanging on to his last worn-out shell. "He had been in that same old seashell for four or five years, and I couldn't get him to get out of it," says Ormes. Trammel says avoid painted shells, because the crabs will eat the paint that flakes off.

One misconception about hermit crabs is that you can just pick one up off the beach. This is illegal in most places, and these saltwater crabs have much more complicated care requirements. Likewise, never let a purchased crab go; they're not native to most of the U.S. and won't survive.

Crazy for Crabs

So crabs are not simple, inexpensive pets for children — but some people fall for them. "It becomes addictive," says Trammel, who has five species now, including the fussier marine variety. Ormes found her crabs' different personalities fascinating: "Kate was sort of the dominant one that would give him marching orders," she says. "Jonathan was the investigator."

If you go crazy for crabs, you'll find plenty of company on sites like the Hermit Crab Association, where people share information and even list crabs up for adoption. You'll also discover that not everyone understands your passion. Ormes says that when she was applying for permits when she moved to Florida, one official kept saying to her, "Now when you get there, don't you go throwing them in the river." Her response: "These are my beloved pets that are 30 years old. Why would I throw them in the river?"

And now, though Ormes is known as "the crab lady" and neighbors constantly inquire about her pets, people are often confused about exactly what they are."One guy said, 'How are your lobsters doing?' I smiled, and he said, 'Oh, of course, I don't mean lobsters. I mean shrimp!'" Ormes says. "To be kind, I often say, 'My shrimp are fine, but my hermit crabs are doing really well.'"

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