Ask the Aquarium: Where Do Hermit Crabs Live?
BY SHERRY WHITE
Special to The Pilot
Q. Do hermit crabs live in the shells of other animals?
A. Yes. Unlike true crabs that have hard exoskeletons covering their entire bodies, hermit crabs have soft abdomens. For protection they must set up house in empty shells of other animals. Studies estimate some 500 varieties of these sometimes comical and colorful crabs exist worldwide.
There are two types of hermit crabs: marine hermits that live in water, and land hermits that are primarily terrestrial. Both seem to favor empty snail shells for homes. Marine hermits are often found in vacant shells of sea snails such as whelks and conchs. With their soft and flexible abdomens, hermits can easily contort to fit into the intricate, spiral interior of snail shells. Once situated, the crabs carry their homes on their backs until time to molt.
All crabs must shed their hard exterior shells, or molt, to grow. With each shedding the crab increases a bit in size. This requires hermit crabs to seek larger shells. The crab will inspect several potential new homes, even try them on for size, before abandoning the safety of its current shell. If suitable new abodes aren't available, the crabs will steal shells from each other.
Land hermit crabs are frequently sold in pet stores and gift shops; however, these usually small crabs are not as easy to care for as one might think. For good health, some of their needs are clean air, a full range of light (up to 12 hours a day), proper temperature and humidity, a chemical and preservative-free diet, chlorine-free fresh and salt water, and an environment conducive for molting. Many crabs purchased in retail shops fail to survive.
The state operates three public aquariums; one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island. The aquariums are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina's aquatic environment.
For more information about the Aquariums, visit www.ncaquariums. com, or call (800) 832-FISH.
Sherry White works for the public affairs office of the N.C. Aquariums.
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