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Why Do Hermit Crabs Dig & Burrow?

If you recently have setup your decorative enclosure with amazing hermit crabs inside, you have certainly noticed how active these funny beings get.

Once they get through the initial shy phase and start feeling comfortable around you, they will start playing around their new home, climbing, exploring or digging the substrate.

But why do hermit crabs dig and burrow in the first place? Read along, to find out the most common reasons.

Hermit Crab Digging & Burrowing

Well, there are multiple reasons for such behavior happening, so here is all you need to know about that.

– New Environment

Whenever placed into a new home, hermit crabs will feel extremely shy and act accordingly. Being mostly nocturnal creatures, it can happen for many new owners to not even see their pets for several days until they decide to come up.

Indeed, hermits are very vulnerable and they find safety and comfort inside the substrate. This is simply their way of staying protected from natural predators and unknown situations.

However, once they get familiar with their owner’s voices, they will eventually start coming out to the surface and spend most of their time exploring around. This is a perfectly normal behavior and the best way to go through such initial phase quicker is by simply not disturbing them.

– Molting

Molting is certainly the main reason which makes hermit crabs burrow themselves for a while. The larger they are, the more time will they spend inside the substrate. During the molting process, these odd creatures are basically growing up.

They will lose their current exoskeleton and grow one of a larger size. And once such process is completed, they will come out looking brand new and will start their research for the next perfectly fitting shell.

If you suddenly notice your pet digging the substrate and eating more than usual, this is often a clear sign that it is preparing itself for the molting process to begin. Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict how long will your hermits need to spend burrowed during each molting phase.

Indeed, some need 2 weeks only, while others will need up to 2 months. Nonetheless of how long your pet is buried for, the most important thing is not to bother it while this is happening. Or even worse, to dig it up.

Their exoskeletons are extremely delicate and fragile until a new one is fully grown and digging them out can not only stress them out drastically but also make them lose a limb or even to die.

If you are not really sure whether your pet is molting, you may observe if it comes out during nighttime to feed. If it is, it probably means it is destressing rather than molting.

If you own multiple hermit crabs (which is highly recommendable) but you believe that your tank is too small and that the others may bother the molting one, try moving it to a quarantine tank just before such process begins.

– Looking for Food

Hermit crabs are little scavengers and they love exploring around the tank in the search for some tasty meal. And they may even extend their food search to the inner parts of their substrate sometimes.

Some of your hermit pets may even become as resourceful as it gets over time. In fact, they are known to occasionally bury a part of their favorite meals inside the substrate and to enjoy the tasty feast at a later point.

Substrate for Hermit Crabs

In the wild, these creatures have no other choice other than burying themselves in the sand substrates along the ocean shores.

However, when held as pets, sand is probably not the best type of substrate for them. Indeed, this can often get inside their shells and harden, causing various health complications. Instead, coconut fiber is a much better option.

That said, the Zoo Med Eco Earth substrate is an amazing product. It is not a big investment but it will last for a long time. Such substrate material will simply expand when in contact with water and is ready to use in no time.

Coconut fiber substrates like these are really soft, making it easier for your hermit pets to dig and burrow. On top of that, it absorbs unwanted odors very well and it is an amazing keeper of stable humidity levels.

When setting it up inside your hermit tank, you will need to offer a decent amount of it, to ensure enough burrowing place. There is no universal depth requirement, as this depends entirely on the size of your hermits.

However, a good thumb rule for smaller pets is placing at least 4 or 5 inches of substrate. If your hermits are somehow larger, you will probably need to provide a minimal depth of 6 inches.

How Long do Hermit Crabs Stay Buried?

Sadly, there is no rule here. The length of their burrowing phase depends instead on the reason why they decide to bury in the first place. If that is because feeling shy or frightened or being in the search for food, they may come out in just a few hours.

However, if they are buried because in the middle of a molting process, you can expect your pets not coming out anywhere between 2 and 8 weeks (the smaller they are, the sooner the molting will be completed).

Should You Dig Up Your Hermit Crab?

Never ever dig up your hermit crabs. Being buried is their only way of feeling safe and protected when scared and when vulnerable.

If you dig your hermits up, especially when they are molting, this may cause irreparable damage both to their mental and physical health.

Wrapping Up

Hermit crabs are active pets but they are also passionate burrowers. With no natural way of escaping or fighting predators off, this is their best way of staying alive and protected during their most vulnerable life phases.

Whether this is happening during molting time or when feeling scared and shy or even to simply enjoy their meal in piece, it is absolutely normal and you should never dig them up.

Hermit Crabs - Updated: February 19, 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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