A hermit crab without shell is very vulnerable to external conditions and can die quickly if left alone. Handing them a new shell is one way to help but this is not the only step to take.
First, it is important that you sanitize the shell that is being offered to your hermit crab. This is to ensure that there is no sand, mites, or fungus in the shell.
How to Care for a Hermit Crab Without a Shell
We often see hermit crabs with decorated shells in little plastic tanks in pet stores, but these fascinating creatures need much more care than we assume. Hermit crabs need a lot of warmth and humidity, and they can die quickly without proper care. They also need to be isolated from other hermit crabs, but they can live in a small aquarium with a 2- to 3-inch base of sand. Make sure the sand is extra moist, and use a heat lamp and/or a humidifier to maintain the temperature above 70 degrees.
When a hermit crab leaves its shell, it is usually preparing to molt. The process is a necessary step in hermit crab growth, but it can be stressful for the crab. It is important to keep a watchful eye on the hermit crab during this time and not disturb it. A crab that abandons its shell is left completely exposed to the environment, which can cause it to droop and eventually die.
Stresses that can cause a hermit crab to leave its shell include overcrowding, bullying, getting dropped on its back and being exposed to temperatures too low or too high. The crab may also feel ill or uncomfortable in its current shell, or the old exoskeleton can become infested with fungus.
When a hermit crab is ready to molt, it will leave its shell and begin digging under the substrate. It will not return to its shell until it is done molting, and the crab should be given ample space for several weeks while it goes through this process.
During this time, the hermit crab must be kept away from other hermit crabs and humans. Do not disturb the crab or change the water, unless you notice an extremely foul smell, which means that the hermit crab has died.
If your hermit crab is not molting, you can try to lure it into its shell by placing a piece of cooked egg, shrimp or fish food in its habitat. A light placed in the tank will help to attract the hermit crab’s attention as well.
Hermit Crab Molting
If your Hermit Crab suddenly exits their shell, it’s important to not panic. This is a natural and completely normal process called molting. Hermit crabs will abandon their current shells when they need to trade them in for bigger ones to accommodate their growing bodies. This is why it’s so important to provide them with ample housing options in their habitats.
The crabs leave their shells to enlarge and harden the new exoskeleton, which takes a great deal of energy and leaves them vulnerable to outside elements. They may also shed their old shells because they are ill or because they feel like the current shell is too small for them. Other reasons for shedding include stress, an unfriendly environment, fungus, and gravel particles wedged inside the shell.
During the molting process, hermit crabs do not eat and are lethargic. They may even lose a limb during this time. They will be able to replace the missing limb later as it grows in bud form and then swells and unfolds during the shedding event. The crabs are also storing salts in preparation for the upcoming event.
Hermit crabs rely on water pressure to enlarge the soft, new exoskeleton. When they’re ready to molt, the old shell will crack and crumble away. The crab then moves into the new shell and uses the water to get swollen, inflated, and strong enough to fill the interior of the new shell.
While the hermit crab is in its new shell, it needs to be left alone. Do not touch or try to coax it back into its old one as this will irritate and confuse it. It’s important to make sure the hermit crab is comfortable in its new home and provides it with a deep substrate, plenty of space, clean water, and quality food.
The crab will need to wait a while before it feels confident enough to venture out into its new environment. During this period, it is recommended to sterilize the shell and the cage walls with povidone iodine or bleach. The discarded shell should be cleaned and boiled, if possible, to kill any fungus that has grown on it. Eventually, the hermit crab will move in again and begin its usual activities.
Hermit Crab Food
A hermit crab’s inner body is soft and does not have the hard exoskeleton protection that other crustaceans have. This is why hermit crabs feel the need to encase themselves in a shell or something that resembles one. They are natural scavengers and will happily crunch through the core of an apple or pinch the remains of a wilted vegetable in search of calcium to strengthen their own shells.
But hermits do not always abandon their shells because of molting; other things can cause it, too. Stress, an inhospitable environment (like being crowded by other hermits), a shell that is too small or poorly fitting, a fungus infection, and even just too much handling can all trigger hermit crabs to leave their homes for a new one.
The best way to keep hermits from leaving their shells is to ensure that there are plenty of different ones available to them in their habitats, both for the molting hermies and the ones who simply need to switch up their look. There should also be plenty of food on hand to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need, as well as enough water to prevent dehydration.
Most hermit crab owners purchase pre-made formulated diets from pet stores, but many also feed their squishy sidekicks homemade meals. A wide variety of foods is recommended, including fresh and dried fruits, berries, vegetables, meats, eggs, honey, trail mix, popcorn, and natural peanut butter. But before introducing anything to the menu, owners should read the list of ingredients on the package and make sure that the items do not contain any chemicals or other harmful substances.
Another important ingredient to the hermit crab diet is salt, which can be obtained from a rock or a bag of sea salt. While table salt is okay for hermits to eat, ocean salt is best because it contains the most minerals.
To avoid spoilage, food should be stored in a container with a lid and kept in the refrigerator until it is needed. A desiccant packet should be placed in the container, as well, to keep moisture from building up in the air.
Hermit Crab Care Tips
If your Hermit crab has gotten out of its shell, don’t panic. It might be molting, which is a natural part of the hermit crab’s life cycle. Molting can take a lot of energy, so your Hermit crab may be reluctant to return to its old shell.
You can help your Hermit crab return to its shell by moving it into a quarantine tank or placing a barricade around the old shell. In the quarantine tank, you can create optimal conditions (humidity, temperature, and quite dark) for your Hermit crab to feel comfortable in. You should also provide your Hermit crab with a variety of shells of different sizes, including several that are slightly bigger than its current shell.
While a hermit crab that has gotten out of its shell is usually just fine, you should monitor it closely to make sure nothing is wrong. If the hermit crab seems dehydrated or is acting strange, then you should move it to a quarantine tank and provide it with optimal conditions.
A hermit crab that has gotten out of the shell will often look like it’s dead, but you should check closer to see if it’s just an old exoskeleton. Hermit crabs are known to die outside their shells, and this can happen due to physical damage from shipment or distribution issues, hermit crab sickness, or even just poor care.
If you are concerned about your Hermit crab’s health, contact a local pet store or a Hermit crab specialist to discuss the situation. A Hermit crab expert will be able to help you figure out the cause of your Hermit crab’s behavior and get it back into its shell.
Hermit crabs that are about to molt will gather together for a short period of time and line up in descending order, from big to small. This is a very interesting sight, and if you are lucky enough to catch it, it’s something that you should definitely snap a picture of! Once they have all lined up, each Hermit crab will then move into a new shell in the middle of the group.