Is it OK to Touch Hermit Crabs?

As a pet owner or animal enthusiast, you may find yourself fascinated by hermit crabs. These tiny crustaceans are surprisingly complex and interesting creatures, with unique behaviors and physical adaptations. However, when it comes to interacting with them, there are important considerations to keep in mind. In this blog post, we’ll explore the issue of touching hermit crabs, including the risks and benefits, as well as alternative ways to observe and learn about these fascinating creatures.

Hermit Crab Background Information

Before we dive into the topic of handling hermit crabs, let’s first review some basic information about these creatures. Hermit crabs are a diverse group of crustaceans that belong to the order Decapoda. There are many different species of hermit crabs, with varying habitat preferences and physical characteristics. Some of the most common types of hermit crabs you may encounter include land hermit crabs (such as Coenobita clypeatus or Coenobita compressus) and marine hermit crabs (such as Pagurus bernhardus or Clibanarius virescens).

Land hermit crabs are often kept as pets, while marine hermit crabs are typically observed in the wild. Hermit crabs are found in tropical and subtropical regions all over the world. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including tide pools, coastal areas, beaches, and forests. Hermit crabs are unique among crustaceans in that they use empty shells from other animals (such as snails) as a protective covering for their soft abdomens.

Many people are drawn to hermit crabs for a variety of reasons. Some keep them as pets, while others observe them in the wild or in captivity for educational purposes. Additionally, some individuals are simply curious about these fascinating creatures and enjoy interacting with them.

One of the reasons people keep hermit crabs as pets is that they are low maintenance and easy to care for. They don’t require a lot of space, are relatively low cost, and are interesting to observe. In addition, hermit crabs can live for several years with proper care.

Another reason people may hold hermit crabs is an interest in teaching children about biology, behavior, and respect for other living things. Hermit crabs are fascinating creatures that can provide a unique and interesting educational experience for children of all ages.

Lastly, some individuals may simply enjoy holding hermit crabs as a source of relaxation and stress relief. The sensation of holding a small, living creature can be therapeutic and enjoyable for some people.

Pros of Touching Hermit Crabs (Under Controlled Conditions)

There are some potential benefits to touching hermit crabs, as long as it is done carefully and under controlled conditions. These benefits may include:

Strengthening Bond with Pet Hermit Crabs

If you keep hermit crabs as pets, interacting with them (including gentle handling) can help strengthen your bond and trust with them. Through positive interactions, such as offering food or handling them gently, you can create a positive association between you and your hermit crab. This can help ensure their willingness to approach you and interact with you in the future.

Sensory and Educational Benefits for Children

For children who are interested in animals and nature, touching hermit crabs in a safe and supervised manner can help them learn about biology, behavior, and respect for other living things. Hermit crabs are fascinating creatures that can provide a unique and interesting educational experience for children of all ages. By observing and handling them, children can learn about the importance of maintaining a safe and healthy environment for pets, which can translate into a positive lifelong habit.

Assessing Hermit Crab Health and Well-being

In some cases, gentle handling may be necessary to assess a hermit crab’s overall health and well-being. For example, you may need to examine the shell and body for signs of injury, illness, or stress. Regular handling can also help get the hermit crab comfortable with being handled, which can make future health checks easier and less stressful for the hermit crab.

Risks and Cons Associated with Handling Hermit Crabs

While there are some potential benefits to touching hermit crabs, there are also significant risks and drawbacks to consider. These may include:

Hermit crabs are sensitive creatures that are easily stressed by changes in their environment or handling. If they are exposed to unsuitable conditions or handled too often or too roughly, they may become agitated or otherwise distressed. Stress can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes, including reduced appetite, slower growth, and increased susceptibility to illness or death.

Increased Risk of Illness and Bacterial Transmission

Hermit crabs can carry various bacteria, including zoonotic diseases like salmonella, which can be transmitted to humans. Handling them may increase this risk, especially if proper handwashing and other hygiene practices are not followed. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of bacterial transmission.

Physical Harm

Hermit crabs may pinch or bite as a defense mechanism, which can be painful and cause injury. Additionally, improper handling (such as dropping or shaking them) can lead to shell damage or displacement, which can be fatal for the hermit crab. It’s important to handle hermit crabs carefully to reduce the risk of injury or harm.

Molting Complications

Hermit crabs shed their exoskeletons periodically as they grow. During this process, they are vulnerable and may require extra care and protection. Handling them during this time can disrupt their molting process and even cause death. Molting complications can also lead to long-term health issues if the hermit crab is not able to properly shed its exoskeleton.

Impact on Growth and Development

Hermit crabs that are subjected to stress, improper handling, or unsuitable living conditions may experience stunted growth, reduced life expectancy, and other negative consequences. Long-term negative effects such as reduced growth and developmental issues can have lasting negative consequences.

Best Practices for Handling Hermit Crabs

If you do decide to handle hermit crabs, it is essential to follow best practices to minimize the risks and promote their well-being. Some tips for safe and responsible handling may include:

Proper Handwashing Techniques Before and After Handling

To reduce the risk of bacterial transmission, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling hermit crabs (or any other animals). This will help prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce the risk of illness or infection.

Gentle Handling Techniques

When picking up a hermit crab, approach slowly and steadily to avoid startling them. Support their body and shell simultaneously, and avoid excessive squeezing or jostling. Cradling the hermit crab’s body in your hand helps to prevent it from being dropped and ensures extra protection for the hermit crab.

Limiting Duration and Frequency of Handling

Based on expert consensus, handling sessions should be limited to 10-15 minutes, no more than 2-3 times per week. This helps minimize stress and allows the hermit crab to recover from any negative effects of handling. It is important that hermit crabs have time to rest and recover from any stress induced from handling.

Alternatives to Handling Hermit Crabs

If you are concerned about the risks and drawbacks of handling hermit crabs, there are plenty of alternative ways to observe and appreciate these creatures. Some ideas may include:

Observing Hermit Crabs in their Natural Environment

If you live in a coastal or forested area where hermit crabs are present, you may be able to observe them in their natural habitat without disturbing them. Observing hermit crabs in their natural environment can help you understand more about how they behave in their own habitat.

Watching Hermit Crabs in Captivity Without Physical Interaction

If you prefer to observe hermit crabs in a controlled setting, such as an aquarium or terrarium, you can do so without handling them. Watching them in captivity can still offer interesting and informative insights into hermit crab behavior and biology.

Virtual or Remote Learning Opportunities

With the help of technology, you can learn about hermit crabs and their behaviors from the comfort of your home. Consider watching online videos, participating in virtual tours or webcams, or reading educational articles about these fascinating crustaceans. These options offer an interesting alternative to the traditional approach of handling and observing hermit crabs.


In the end, the choice of whether or not to handle hermit crabs is a personal one, based on your individual circumstances, preferences, and goals. However, it is important to keep in mind the risks and benefits associated with handling these creatures, and to approach any interaction with care and caution. By following best practices, respecting their needs, and seeking out alternative learning opportunities, you can still appreciate and learn about hermit crabs without putting them (or yourself) at risk.

Hermit crabs are fascinating and unique creatures that can offer a world of learning and exploration. Whether you choose to hold and handle them or simply observe them in the wild or in captivity, there are plenty of ways to appreciate their beauty and complexity. By taking the time to care and learn about these creatures, we can ensure that they continue to thrive in their natural environments and provide us with valuable insights into the world around us.