Updated: Aug 7
Let's face it, whatever the pet store told you about Hermit Crabs being an easy, playful pet that you can take out of the tank and play with anywhere... forget about it.
Think of your Hermit Crab as a pet fish, you don't take the fish outside to play, or have a cuddle on the couch. Why? Because your fish can't breathe out of water. The same goes for Hermit Crabs, they cannot breathe outside of the tank with low humidity levels.
At the end of the day, every single Captive Hermit Crab was plucked from the wild, shipped to a pet store, and sold to you.
They were not bred into captivity, they were not tamed, or trained or handled to be a friendly snuggle pet like a cat or a dog.
Removing them from the tank is incredibly stressful for them, after all, to them, you are a predator. It may appear that your crab is social, unafraid or enjoys being outside of their tank. Unfortunately, this is just not true.
Wild animals are not use to being handled by humans and can feel frightful when approached by what they assume is a predator.
When a Hermit Crab is in a low humid environment, their gills will start to dry out. If they dry out too much, or repeatedly, they will sustain irreversible damage and could lead to breathing struggles and death.
Being a prey animal, Hermit Crabs need a safe space to hide away from potential predators. This makes them feel safe and secure. What you may think as funny, cute or entertaining when they are scuttling around on the floor, couch or bed is actually a fear response of your crab trying to find a safe space to hide in an environment that they are not accustomed to.
You may think your Hermit Crab is showing affection by nuzzling into your clothes or climbing on your arms, however Hermit Crabs do not feel human emotions and do not rely on human connections unlike a dog or cat.
Another factor when handling Hermit Crabs is that they are known to pinch, and when they clamp down, they don't let go until they feel safe again. Their claws are extremely sharp and can break the skin and draw blood.
If they happen to fall while being handled, the fall could be fatal or result in a broken/cracked shell.
There is also the risk of your Hermit Crab coming into contact with chemicals that are dangerous such as floor cleaners or bleach, soap or fragrances from your clothes, blankets, carpet etc. as well as bacteria that they are not familiar with. They can then take this back into their tank with them and spread it among the colony.
If your theory is that you are removing them from the tank for exercise, this is simply not needed. By placing a crab wheel within their tank, they will get plenty of exercise in the safety of their tank.
When should you handle your Hermit Crab?
There are some circumstances when you need to handle your Hermit Crabs, these are listed below.
When you need to measure your crabs shell to make sure you have the correct sizes available, this does not need to be done often, but should be done when a new crab is arriving into your colony.
When you find a naked crab, they will need to be gently picked up with a spoon and placed into isolation.
If you come across a surface moulting crab, you will need to gently pick them up and place them into isolation.
If you are moving your crabs to a new tank, pick them up and move them straight to the new tank.
When you are sexing them (checking their gender) this only needs to be done once. And can be done inside their tank.
If there is an emergency within the tank (flooding or ant infestation) you will need to remove all Crabs from the tank and place them into a temporary tank.
When you are performing a wellbeing check on an injured or lethargic crab, this can also be done inside the tank.
When a fight breaks out between crabs or there is an attempted shell jacking, you will need to remove the offending crab to the other side of the tank.
Safe ways to handle your Hermit Crab
Always pick your crab up by the shell, never by the legs or claws. This will cause extreme stress to your crab and can cause them to pinch you or drop a limb.
Always hold your crab the right way up, the one and only time you should hold your crab upside down is for the few moments that you are sexing them.
If you are removing the crab from the tank to move it to another tank, into isolation etc. Always have something to support the Hermit Crab instead of your hands (bowl, container, mug etc.) in case your crab makes any sudden movements, and you drop them.
So why do pet stores tell us it's okay to handle your Hermit Crab? Well, the answer is pretty simple, most pet stores just don't know. Most pet store employees and owners are not actually trained on the proper requirements and care of Australian Land Hermit Crabs, they do not specialize in this area of pet, but lucky for you, we do! Which is why we are here to let you know exactly why our little Hermie friends are a hands-off pet.