Five years ago, I unexpectedly found myself driving to New Jersey to pick up hermit crabs from a stranger.
Like many New Yorkers, I search Craigslist ads when I’m bored. I don’t remember what I was looking for that day—it might have been a sodastream or mini trampoline. But what I found was a young woman who was moving away to college and wanted to find a home for her hermit crabs.
I remember thinking they could be interesting pets, small enough to fit in my NYC sized apartment. They also seemed like low-maintenance animals, perfect for living in the city.
I trekked out to New Jersey and took home the small tank, which I was told contained “five to seven crabs.” But when I started my research on what owning hermit crabs actually entailed, I was shocked to learn how much these little guys need to be healthy. Most pet stores don’t keep hermit crabs in the right setup and don’t give out correct information on care, so people (understandably) don’t know what hermit crabs need to survive when they buy one.
Hermit crabs have a type of gill and need a very damp environment to breathe properly. (Most are from the Caribbean, and all are taken from the wild). They require about 80% humidity in the air—for comparison, my dry NYC apartment’s humidity is about 25%. They also require a deep mix of sand and coconut fiber so they can burrow and molt, something they must do to grow and be comfortable. If they can’t, it would be like wearing the same pair of pants forever. (I don’t know about you, but my size has certainly increased over the years.)
They are also incredibly social creatures, not the misanthropic loners their name suggests. My hermit crabs often sit on top of one another in a pile, even though they have a huge tank to hang out in. Just like for people, life is better with buddies. They also constantly need to be moving into a larger shell, so it’s important they have tons of different seashells to choose from.
After finding a much larger tank and taking several trips to Home Depot to get supplies (like 200 pounds of sand—not kidding), I was able to create a little slice of beach life for my hermit crabs. Immediately they became more active and healthier looking.
Pretty soon I started noticing other ads on Craigslist with a similar story. “Help! I just bought some hermit crabs and had no idea they needed so much care! Will someone please adopt??.” I never saw myself becoming ‘NYC’s Hermit Crab Rescuer’, but nevertheless, the calling found me.
I’ve “gotten crabs” from all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and collected some interesting stories along the way. One guy posted that his company Christmas party was racing hermit crabs as a game and giving them away to attendees at the end of the night (whether they wanted them or not). Another woman said that while on vacation at the Jersey Shore she found two crabs abandoned in her hotel room. Someone had most likely experienced a case of buyer’s remorse after purchasing them from the boardwalk and then left them behind in their small wire cage.
Perhaps the most bizarre was a couple who went abroad and brought home a seashell from the beach, only to find a hermit crab in it four days later in their suitcase. (Side note: I’ve stopped collecting seashells from the beach. Seashells are homes for hermit crabs, and shell collectors may end up with a stowaway. I’ve actually had more than one person email me that this just happened to them.)
Realizing that my tank—and apartment—were not big enough to take them all in, I decided a better solution would be providing education and resources to help aspiring crabbers know what they are getting into. I started Two Claws Up on both YouTube and Instagram as a place to share videos, tips and cute pics to ensure that hermit crabs have everything they need to live long, happy (and crabby) lives.
I now get tons of emails and messages from people with questions—anything from “What kind of water do hermit crabs drink?” to “Is it normal for them to sleep all day?” and “Can they eat popcorn?” (Yes, and they love it).
It may seem kind of silly to give so much effort and attention to hermit crabs, but I believe that every animal deserves to have the environment that nature designed for them. Unfortunately, pet stores do not always value the well-being of the animals they sell, particularly “novelty pets.” No living creature is a toy or a throw-away souvenir, and places that sell any animal need to give the right information on how to care for them.
In addition to learning about hermit crabs, I’ve also learned a thing or two from them. They are resilient creatures, always adapting to their environment. They understand that change is a necessary part of life.
And just like any New Yorker, they’re always on the hunt for a bigger, better apartment.
Want to see the weirdest thing a hermit crab does? Of course you do. Here you go:
When not rescuing hermit crabs, Sarah Porter is the Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships with the non-profit Hope for Haiti and also the Board President of the New York City Peace Corps Association.