Hermit crabs are among the more unusual pets, although they do make interesting, easy care companions. They have distinct personalities, are active and curious, and their unique characteristics and low maintenance requirements make them good pets.
Hermit crabs are not "true crabs." They have a smaller, soft abdomen which they protect by living in an empty snail shell. They must find larger shells as they grow, and owners of these pets must provide progressively larger shells as their pets grow.
In the wild they are omnivores, feeding on both plant and animal material. There are both marine and land hermit crabs, and the information here refers to the land hermit crab (information on marine hermit crabs can be found on the About Salwater Aquariums site.
In the United States, there are two main species of hermit crabs found as pets: Coenobita clypeatus (goes by a varity of names such as Caribbean crab, purple pincher crab, land hermit crab, tree crab, or soldier crab) and Coenobita compressus (Ecuadorian Crab or E-Crab). Other species are also kept as pets in other parts of the world, such as the Australian land hermit crab (Coenobita variabilis), and the strawberry land hermit crab (Coenobita perlatus).
Land hermit crabs are relatively easy to find in pet stores, but care is required in choosing a potential pet. Check to make sure that all the legs are present (3 pairs of walking legs), the shell covering the head and thorax isn't damaged, there are no parasites/small bugs present, and that the crab is lively.
Larger crabs may be more hardy, and if you already have a crab then it is important to match sizes pretty closely otherwise fighting may occur.
There are some nice pages featuring hermit crabs on the internet, and for more information I would recommend anyone interested in these creatures visit a variety of the following sites to get a good idea of the care requirements of the hermit crab:
- Hermit-Crabs.com - another very thorough site about the care of land hermit crabs.
- Crabby Talk - visually stunning site with lots of good information as well.
- Crab Street Journal - collaborative online magazine all about hermit crabs with a strong community component.
Crabs and accessories are available on line as well:
- The Crabbage Patch Store - excellent selection of hermit crab supplies (especially nice shells at great prices).
- Florida Marine Research - supplier of crabs and accessories. Site has care information and tips too.
- Pet Discounters.com - good source of hermit crab supplies.