Crabs are not always welcome in the marine aquarium. Some of them could cause trouble, either blundering about and knocking things over, possibly interfering directly with corals or just growing too large.
There are some crabs however that often find favour with aquarists, and these are the hermits. They are quite comical as they wander about the aquarium, and at the same time are useful as scavengers. They can be colourful too, though this is usually the legs as this is the part that can be seen. The shell is not the crab’s own; it has been found empty or taken over from a snail for example. The crab keeps itself secure in its shell with a tenacious grip. If excessive force is used to remove the crab, then the grip will not be broken, but the crab’s body will break apart. The grip is so strong because remaining in the shell means survival, outside of it means death as the crab is highly vulnerable. The crab holds itself inside the shell with its rear pair of legs which slant forward to increase strength, and in addition the abdomen is shaped to fit the shell reasonably.
This is one danger from the hermit crabs, their need for a shell. I once had a large snail and a hermit crab in the same 4ft aquarium and for a while all went well. However, the hermit began following the snail about, trying to get at its flesh and generally upset it. Eventually it damaged the snail which died. The hermit crab was next seen in the snail’s shell. Though I couldn’t be sure, I wondered if I was at fault, perhaps the hermit had grown and needed a larger home. I would suggest that a small selection of suitable shells is left in the aquarium, so that hermit crabs can change home if they have a need.
There are several suitable hermit crabs for the aquarium, and provided there are no dangers present (such as for example puffer fish) a fish only system could be used, though there needs to be rocky structures present. The best habitat however is a reef system, where the crab can find security and its ‘cleaning’ activities are perhaps the most useful.
The hermit crab being focused on here is commonly called the white spot hermit crab, or the scarlet hermit crab, or the knobby hermit crab. There may be more common names demonstrating that for identification purposes the proper name is the best. In this case the proper name is Dardanus megistos.
It is necessary with this crab for the reef to be securely built, though this generally applies to all hermits, particularly the larger ones. They are not particularly naturally destructive, but just clumsy. They could grow to around 4″ (circa 10cm) including and dependant on the shell they inhabit. Only one should really be kept or it is likely fights will occur. It is also necessary to exclude shrimps in general as the crab could eat them. The hermit crab should be seen during the ‘lights-on’ period but is also active at night. They are hardy in a good habitat.
Feeding is simple as the hermit crab appears forever hungry, constantly looking for food. They will take de-frozen lance fish, mussel flesh, crab meat, and almost anything else that is edible. Hence they are fairly good at cleaning up.
This particular hermit crab is not suitable for a small aquarium; one of around 4ft (circa 122cm) should be fine. Though the crab population should be restricted to one, an aquarium of this size affords space for other inhabitants to spread interest.
This is one species of hermit crab which is interesting and colourful. However, if the aquarist wishes to keep more than one, or keep one in a smaller aquarium, there are types that could be available. For example, there is the red reef hermit crab, proper name Paguristes cadenati. This could grow to around 1½” (circa 4cm). A trip to the local fish shop (LFS) is likely to turn up hermit crabs that are suitable for the aquarist’s particular system.
With proper attention to the habitat and some to other livestock, the hermit crabs are as said useful, interesting, amusing and hardy. Additionally they pose no problems with feeding. All they require is a new home occasionally.