Hermit crabs need a constant supply of new houses as they grow and they usually prefer a choice. To enable your pets to find the right shells, provide a selection all slightly bigger than the ones they currently inhabit. Cleaning the shells properly before introducing them into the tank prevents the introduction of any pests or pathogens while ensuring you don’t inadvertently introduce toxins in the form of cleaning products. The procedure is the same whether you have land or marine hermit crabs.
Brush dust, grime and debris off the shells with a small brush such as a toothbrush.
Rinse the shells under the faucet to remove the remaining specks of debris.
Place the shells in a ceramic or glass pan, not a metal one, cover with distilled water and bring to the boil.
Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. This kills most bacteria and other pathogens and pests.
Allow the pan to cool.
Pick out the shells and dry roughly with paper towels before placing them in the hermit crab tank.
- Found shells are fine, as long as they are the right size and shape, provided you disinfect them by boiling before use. Shells you have bought from a pet or aquarium store might be sterile but boil them anyway to be on the safe side.
- Hermit crabs are highly sensitive to the chemicals in most cleaning products so avoid using them to clean the shells. Even a thorough rinse might not remove all traces of the product, which means you risk making the crabs extremely sick or even killing them.
- Do not use painted shells for your crabs. Paint itself contains toxins.
- Don't buy shells from souvenir stalls for your hermit crabs or yourself. These shells are usually obtained by killing the mollusks that once inhabited them, and sometimes these mollusks are endangered. This might apply to some of the shells available in pet stores too, so ask if you are uncertain of their origin. Empty shells you found yourself are fine - just look inside them carefully before taking them home to check that they really are empty and don't contain sleeping mollusks or wild hermit crabs.
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Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.