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Hermit Crab Substrate – The Complete Guide

When setting up the enclosure which will act as a home to your new hermit crabs, it is important to do it properly from the very beginning, to avoid complications afterward.

You certainly know how important it is to provide them the adequate humidity and temperature levels, but the substrate is just as important. Tank substrate is, besides their shell, the only safe place where they can hide when being stressed or scared.

More importantly, this is where they grow and develop. So, in order for you to be able of offering the ideal conditions to your pets, here comes the complete guide on hermit crab substrate.

Best Substrate for Hermit Crabs

The biggest advantages come from selecting the best substrate type possible. Therefore, our suggestion is to start with coconut fiber. This has been proven to be the most appropriate choice for hermit crabs so far, for several reasons.

First, it is super easy and simple to setup. Next, it holds humidity levels much better when compared to other substrate materials. And finally, it is soft and probably the safest solution for these little burrowers.

The Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Substrate is our top suggestion. This is a great option because it is available online, so it will be easily reachable non depending on the area where you live and your local pet store’s selection.

It is a greatly affordable product and it lasts for several months before you have to replace it.

Coconut fiber like this is soft and fine, making it a great solution for your hermit crabs to burrow when they have to. And it is also quite helpful when it comes to eliminating waste odors.

However, it can be a bit trickier for scooping waste when compared to substrates of lighter coloration. Indeed, waste is sometimes a bit more difficult to spot among such darker surface.

Another issue that is likely to happen when using coconut fiber as the only substrate is developing a mini-colony of fungus gnats. These tiny bugs love accommodating extremely moist and soft areas.

And with coconut fiber being especially good at keeping humidity stable, this, unfortunately, can often become the ideal place for them to develop. That is why constant monitoring of your substrate is essential.

If you do spot some, make sure to change the substrate completely and thoroughly clean the tank. However, do avoid treating them with apposite chemicals as these can certainly kill your hermit crabs, too.

All in all, this is our first choice among substrates even when we take into consideration these tiny disadvantages.

Substrate Thickness

Once you choose the ideal substrate type for your enclosure, setting it correctly will be just as important to ensure that your pets are getting the best out of it.

If you own a mini-colony of small-sized hermit crabs, please note that they will require at least 4 inches of substrate depth. Once they grow to medium size, you will need to provide their home with at least 6 inches of substrate.

This is especially important not to disregard, as these creatures need to be completely buried when the time comes, and they also need to be surrounded by enough dark and quiet.

Once they discover the substrate, they will start digging tunnels soon enough. Therefore, there has to be enough depth for them not just to be completely covered when buried, but also to allow enough movement underneath the surface.

A good thumb rule which can you use to determine the ideal depth is to provide enough substrate to cover the shell of your largest specimen at least three times. That way, you can be sure there will be enough underground space for your pets to explore but also to feel safe.

Some owners like gradually extending the height of their substrate from one part of the tank towards the other. That way, hermit crabs will have a deeper substrate area at disposal for burrowing purposes, and a shallower one for surface daily activities.

This will also ensure that their water dishes are more stable and there are fewer spill-outs for you to clean. Indeed, these creatures are quite active explorers and they really love turning things around, including their dishes.

Sand Substrate for Hermit Crabs

Sand is the natural substrate where hermit crabs bury inside in the wild. Therefore, many owners prefer setting that among their captivity enclosures too because it provides a more natural look to tanks.

In our opinion, sand is not the best solution for such enclosures, as there is always a chance of it getting it into the hermit crab shell and hardening inside. Not just the shell, but also among their joints, often forcing them to leave their shell or even dying.

If you decide to use sand as your substrate type anyway, we then suggest going with products such as Fluker’s All Natural Premium Sand.

Such a solution is quite handy because it is naturally enriched with salt and various minerals which hermit crabs need. It also contains a mixture of coconut fiber in it, to ensure that humidity retains better and longer.

The golden rule when choosing sand as your basic substrate is to always avoid such which is heavily colored, as it is likely to be filled up with various chemicals which can certainly harm your already sensitive pets.

And same goes for strong odors. If you open the sand container and a strong smell comes out, the safest thing to do is to return it immediately to the pet store. Additionally, make sure to check if there are any insects inside before spreading them all over your tank.

The idea of any substrate is to be as natural and basic as possible. Indeed, hermit crabs do not only use it for digging around, but they may sometimes decide to eat it as well. Therefore, it is really important to choose the safest option possible.

Also, a good idea may be spraying your sand substrate with de-chlorinated saltwater, to add an even more natural feel.

Do Hermit Crabs Require Substrate?

Yes, Hermit crabs definitely require substrate. In fact, this is one of the most important features of their tanks. These creatures use substrate as their only retreat from predators or other hostile hermit crabs, but also as their safe base during molting.

Furthermore, they will retire into the substrate when having to destress. Not providing a substrate to your hermit pets certainly means that they will die from stress or improper molting very soon.

How Often to Change Substrate?

There is no rule on how often to change substrate in a hermit crab tank, as this depends entirely on the tank size and the quality of the substrate used.

However, if you are diligent enough to perform daily scoops of waste and food leftovers, it is perfectly fine to change the substrate completely every 2 or 3 months.

Make sure to constantly monitor whether there is any visible dirt among the substrate.

Is Gravel Good for Hermit Crabs?

Gravel is good for hermit crabs as long as it used as a decorative area around their water dishes instead of as a substrate.

Indeed, gravel is too coarse for hermits to dig into and may cause several health complications and compromise their overall wellbeing. Therefore, gravel needs to be avoided as a substrate type, as well as wood shavings or potting soil.

Adding to that, gravel or pebble or any other stone form of the substrate is not able of holding humidity. Wood shavings can be sharp and dry, so they are also a bad idea for your hermit crab tank.

And not to mention potting soil, which can be super-stocked with harsh chemicals. These are good for your plants, but they can be extremely harmful to your pets.

Can Hermit Crabs Suffocate Under Substrate?

Sadly, hermit crabs can suffocate under the substrate if this is not appropriate. Materials need to be soft to avoid injuries but solid enough for the tunnels not to collapse on the hermits.

Additionally, it is vitally important to choose such substrate types which can hold humidity well. If that is not the case, your hermit crabs will not be able of breathing through their modified gills and can eventually suffocate under the substrate.

This is especially delicate during their molting phase, as they then use to spend extended periods of time under the substrate.

Wrapping Up

Providing the ideal tank substrate is the first step toward ensuring your hermit crabs a healthy and happy life. This is their refuge and their safe place, so it is vitally important to choose it while having that in mind.

Although some owners like sticking to sand only and others prefer coconut fiber as a safer option, more and more keepers like experimenting with a mixed solution of the two these days.

Try with the safest option first and see how your pets react. You can always change it at some point until you find one that works best for your pets.

Hermit Crabs - Updated: March 2, 2021
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.

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