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Bringing Home A New Hermit Crab

Updated: Apr 5

Congratulations on your new Hermit Crab! What an exciting time. Below we will talk about what you should do when you are bringing home a brand new crab, whether it's your first ever Hermit Crab or you are a seasoned owner and introducing a new member to your colony.

As exciting as this is for you, it is an incredibly stressful time for your new crab. If you purchased your crab from a pet store, it has recently been taken from its home in the wild and sent to the pet store. So, you can understand why he is quite stressed and confused.

PPS (Post Purchase Syndrome)

All pet store crabs go through this, you may have read online or watched on YouTube that when you bring a new crab home, you should set up a PPS tank. This is a very common practice overseas, however, it is not something that we practice here in Australia.

PPS recommends that you set up a small tank, with minimal substrate and plenty of food and water so that the crab can refuel and gain enough energy to have a successful moult. By having low substrate, this prevents them from digging down to moult before they are ready.

However, in Australia, we recommend just placing your new crab directly into their main tank with the correct conditions, plenty of substrate, food and water. Unfortunately, if you only supply a minimal amount of sub, and your new crab is desperate for a moult, they may go ahead and surface moult which is extremely dangerous for them.

By adding them directly into your main tank, you have the deep substrate there and ready for them to dig down, distress and moult.

Picking a new Hermit Crab

When picking a new Hermit Crab, look for one that appears lively and healthy.

Look for good colouring, bright black eyes, and actively moving around the tank.

Hermit Crabs that have dull, cloudy eyes may be sick, crabs that are half dug into the substrate and not moving may be surface moulting, and naked crabs within the tank are incredibly stressed or unwell, lethargic crabs may be unwell or near death. These are things you need to consider, especially when bringing a new crab back to an already established colony.

If possible, try to select a crab that is already in a natural shell. Painted shells are toxic to Hermit Crabs and should be avoided as much as possible. Most pet stores will only sell crabs with painted shells, so sometimes you won't have a choice. As long as you offer natural shells in your tank, they will change when they are ready.

If you do decide to take home an injured, sick or naked crab; be prepared that they may not pull through.

Bringing them home

When picking up a new crab, we highly recommend taking your own container with you. Most pet stores will only give you a small box or container with nothing in it, to take them home. You can be fill your own container with a small amount of Primed water that slightly covers the bottom of the container, or fill it with damp moss. This will help keep your crabs gills moist during their journey home. Although it might be fun to spend the journey home looking at your new crab, it is best to cover their container in a blanket or jumper etc so they have darkness. This is an entirely new experience for them and is quite scary. So make sure you offer them a dark place to be on their journey home to help them feel a little more secure.

Placing your new crab into their tank

Once you arrive home, don't muck around. Your crabby has been out and about without heat or humidity and their gills will already have started to dry out.

Firstly, measure their current shell opening and write it down. This is very important so you can make sure you have the correct size shells on offer for them.

Before placing them into the tank, if they are joining an already established colony, we recommend giving them a quick dunk in the salt water pool (completely covering the shell) this only needs to be quick, and will help to neutralise their smell when joining the crew. DO NOT hold them under the water, this will cause them to stress.

You can also give them a quick sexing by carefully holding their shell, turning them upside down just above the substrate and waiting for them to come out of their shell abit, look to see if there are Gonopores present. You can read more about checking your crabs gender here

You should also take this time to perform a quick welfare check on your new crab, are they missing any limbs? Is there any holes or cracks in their shells? Do they have any strange discoloured markings etc.

Common behaviours of a new Hermit Crab

We often hear people mentioning that their new crab dug straight down into the substrate and has disappeared for days on end.

This is totally, 100% normal! Stressed crabs will dig down into the substrate to distress. This can take a few weeks to a few months. They need that alone time, in the dark to recoupe after their ordeal of being taken to a new environment. Let them be, they know what to do. Most new Hermit Crabs will dig down to distress and then moult, meaning you may not see them for months on end. This is nothing to be concerned about.

You may notice your new crab is excessively eating, drinking, bathing and digging. These are all normal behaviours, and could be a sign of an upcoming moult. To read more about moulting behaviour head to our Moulting Blog here

If your crab has come from an inappropriate pet store set up, chances are they are hungry, lacking in nutrition and desperately needing to fill their shell water up. This is normal, and nothing to be concerned about. As long as you have deep pools and healthy, appropriate foods on offer for them.

See more about Hermit Crab nutrition here

How your current colony may respond to a new Hermit Crab

When a new crab arrives into your already established colony, the rest of your crew is going to show interest. A new smell, a new crab and a brand new shell! You may notice some antennae fights going on as they establish the tank hierarchy, this is normal, as long as it does not lead to an all out brawl.

Your current crabs may also show interest in this new shell, they may hold the new crab down and rock their shell around. This is okay, but keep an eye on an attempted shell jacking. This will need to be resolved by you. Look for crabs trying to pull the new crab from their shell by their legs or claws, this is a shell jacking and the crabs will need to be separated to different sides of the tank.

Why did my brand new Hermit Crab die, even though my setup was correct?

It doesn't matter how amazing and perfect our setup is, when you purchase a new crab, there is absolutely no guarantee that they are in tip top shape. When being taken from the wild, they do not check if the crabs are injured or sick. And sometimes crabs can live in the pet store conditions for a very long time before being taken to a new home. Alot of pet stores do not keep the humidity or heat levels where they need to be, so a long-term resident may already be going downhill and having their gills dry out or becoming sick.

Unfortunately, you can only do so much on your end. If the crab is already too far gone, it will not pull through, even after you have given it the perfect home.

Adopt, don't shop

We always recommend adopting Hermit Crabs when you can, rather than supporting the crab pet trade that will only take more crabs from the wild.

Look on Gumtree, Facebook marketplace or online crab groups for people rehoming their crabs.

If you are located in Victoria, Australia, checkout the amazing Hermit Crab rescue Hermie Haven run by Aussie owner Beth McCully. Beth spends her spare time rescuing Hermit Crabs that need rehoming or are surrended. She gives them a loving home, gets their health back up and then rehomes them to owners across Victoria. This is a fantastic way to save a crab, without supporting the pet store trade that removes Hermit Crabs from the wild.

You can checkout Hermie Haven at their website here

* A perfect example of bringing home new Hermit Crabs. Damp moss, dark container and somewhere to hide. Photo supplied and with permission from Sharyl Hodgetts

* How most pet stores will send home Hermit Crabs, in a clear plastic container that only contains the crabs. Nowhere for them to hide and feel safe. This is not an appropriate transport tub. Photo supplied and with permission from Maddison Buhmann.

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