Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Casselman

They are sold in beach shops, handed out as prizes at carnival booths, and touted by pet stores as an “easy” pet. But to be happy and healthy, hermit crabs have specific needs that few casual purchasers are prepared to meet.

For Mary Ann Casselman, founder of the Mill Creek Hermit Crab Sanctuary of Northwest Ohio, her love of hermit crabs began when her family received some of these little crustaceans as an unexpected early Christmas present, and realized they didn’t know the first thing about hermit crabs and their care. “My husband and I began scouring the internet looking for any information we could find,” she said, “because we knew that they could not live their lives in the tiny plastic Kritter Keepers they came in.”

Unfortunately, one of the hermit crabs passed away within a few days, most likely due to post-purchase syndrome. “We knew that crabs were social and that my daughter’s little crab (Squirt) needed a buddy,” Mary Ann said, “so I purchased my first hermit crab (Crabzilla) from our local pet store.” Drawn in by their antics and irresistibly cute eyes, Mary Ann soon found herself adopting more of these little creatures, and eventually founding a sanctuary for the lifelong care and well-being of many other hermit crabs.

Below, Mary Ann shares more about her sanctuary for hermit crabs in need, as well as offers insight into the basics of hermit crab care, online resources for new crabbers, and more.

OAC: How and why did you start the sanctuary?

MC: I always knew that I wanted more hermit crabs, but I didn’t want to perpetuate the cycle of abuse that hermit crabs have to endure in order to be sold in the pet trade. [For more information on the hermit crab trade, visit Plight of the Hermies.]

Knowing that, I didn’t want to buy a crab from a pet store, even though their conditions are horrid. I decided to start researching adoption options. The forum I joined had an “adoptions” section; a place for people to post crabs that they are willing to adopt out, as well as a section for people who would like to adopt crabs! I also posted an ad on craigslist.org, stating that I was willing to adopt hermit crabs.

I finally decided that because I was seeing so many crabs out there that needed a home, I would start a place where all crabs could have a home with ideal conditions to live out the rest of their lives. Even if that means I get them in such horrible condition that they do not survive, I am offering them a natural and peaceful place to pass.

OAC: Do you have any favorite hermit crabs or hermit crab “stories”?

MC: I can’t say that I have a “favorite” crab. I really enjoy all of them. Crabzilla and Squirt will always hold a special place in my heart: Crabzilla, because she was my first crab; Squirt, my daughter’s crab, because she was one of the two original crabs that started my fascination and love for these crazy little critters.

Our crabs love to climb. Sometimes we will put maple tree branches in the habitats for them. They will quickly go to work stripping bark off of the branches. Tree bark is high in tannin, which is good for them.

Our crabs love coconut. It seems to be their favorite food. We will often witness crabs dragging off huge pieces of coconut and sometimes little shoving matches that ensue as a result of “not sharing.”

OAC: Do you have any suggestions for resources for people who would like to have hermit crabs as pets? Or things about hermit crab care they should consider?

MC: Do as much research as possible before purchasing any animal, not just hermit crabs. There are quite a few websites that offer knowledgeable information regarding the proper care of hermit crabs. I strongly suggest visiting these sites and joining the forums and asking as many questions as possible:

Hermit Crab Association


Sach’s Crab Page

There are also numerous groups on Facebook that offer support from other hermit crab owners all over the world. Remember, not all websites or groups offer correct and proper care for hermit crabs.

Make sure you can offer the basic items needed for keeping your hermit crabs in the most ideal conditions possible. Those items include:

  • An enclosure (terrarium or aquarium) with a lid.
  • A heater.
  • Gauges to measure temperature and humidity.
  • Deep substrate made of play sand and Eco-Earth (ground up coconut husk) mixed to sand-castle consistency.
  • Two water dishes—one for fresh water and one for saltwater (made with Instant Ocean). The dishes must be deep enough for your largest crab to submerge.
  • Places to hide and things to climb on.
  • Non-commercial hermit crab food (many commercial foods contain ingredients that are harmful and toxic to hermit crabs). Good foods are fresh and dried fruits, veggies and meats.

Hermit crabs are not good pets for children. Hermit crabs are wild animals, no matter how much we would like to think that they aren’t. Hermit crabs will pinch if they feel threatened or stressed. These pinches can cause injuries, sometimes serious injuries. A jumbo crab has enough strength in its big pincher to snap a No.2 pencil in half.

OAC: What do you think are the most harmful misperceptions people have about hermit crabs as pets?

MC: I believe the most harmful perception that people have of hermit crabs, is that they are a cheap and inexpensive pets that don’t live very long.

This is just not true.

Individuals looking to buying hermit crabs typically don’t do research prior to purchase and often take the information, given to them by employees at the pet store, as being accurate and correct. (Not all information offered by pet stores is wrong or inaccurate.)

The buyer then purchases a cute crab in a painted shell, a tiny plastic container with gravel, an extra shell, a shallow water dish with a sponge and jar of commercial crab food, for less than $25, only to go home and find out that they now need an additional $100 of supplies to get their crab set up into proper conditions. Instead of this crab being a cheap pet, it has turned into a hefty purchase. A lot of people decide at this point that they no longer want it, and look for people like myself to give their crabs to.

Hermit crabs can live up to 30 years. That’s quite a long time compared to most traditional pets. If you provide your crabs with proper care, they will live a long and happy life.

OAC: Is there any other info about the sanctuary you would like to share?

MC: We run our sanctuary in the truest since of the word. We are a safe haven for unwanted, neglected and abused hermit crabs, as well as hermit crabs that are simply needing to be re-homed. The hermit crabs that come here stay here and will not be adopted out. This is a place for them to live out the rest of their lives.

Currently the only way for people to contact us is through our Facebook page or via email at millcreekhermitcrabsanctuary@gmail.com. Since we are a non-profit organization, we run on donated supplies and money. For those willing to donate we do have a Paypal account for receiving monetary donations. For more information about how you can help our hermit crab, please contact us! – Interviewed by Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.