Can Hermit Crabs Live Without a Shell?

Hermit crabs are fascinating creatures that are commonly kept as pets. One of the most striking features of hermit crabs is their tendency to carry a shell on their back, which serves as a protective home. However, many people wonder if hermit crabs can live without a shell.

In this article, I will explore this topic in-depth and share my personal experiences with these unique creatures.

How Hermit Crabs Use Their Shells

Hermit crabs use their shells for more than just protection, they actually use them as their homes or “mobile homes”. They are not born with shells but must find a suitable one to protect their soft bodies. When they outgrow their old shells, they must find a larger one and move in. This process of moving into a new shell is called molting.

As they grow, the hermit crab will begin to push against the front of the shell, causing their old exoskeleton to split apart down the back. Once the shell and crabs are separated, the hermit crab will back into the new shell and pull it on, leaving the old shell behind. This process can take a few hours or a few days, depending on the crab’s size.

Hermit crabs are known for their habit of changing shells. This is because they are always looking for the best fit. They’ll trade up if the shell is too small, damaged or not the right shape, and they’ll even fight over shells. The best shells for hermit crabs are those with a smooth interior, a round shape, and the right size. Oftentimes, these shells are hard to come by in their natural environments, which can lead to competition and aggression among the crabs.

Why Do Hermit Crabs Need Shells

Most animals have some kind of outer protection or armor. Hermit crabs lack this and instead use the shells of other creatures as protection. Without the protection of their shell, hermit crabs are vulnerable to predators and environmental hazards, such as dehydration.

Additionally, hermit crabs use their shells to control their moisture levels. They constantly face the risk of drying out, so they seek out shells with a level of humidity that will help keep them hydrated. This is why hermit crabs are often found near the shorelines or in damp habitats, where the humidity levels are higher.

Moreover, shells provide important camouflage, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings and hide from potential predators. The color and shape of the shell can match the natural environment, providing the ultimate protection against predators.

Finally, shells serve as a vital sense receptor for hermit crabs. Hermit crabs are able to detect potential homes through their sense of smell, and shells that are occupied by other sea creatures may have an odor that the hermit crabs can follow. The shell acts as a sensory tool, allowing the crab to get information about the surrounding environment and identify potential predators or food sources.

How Long Can a Hermit Crab Survive Without a Shell?

Hermit crabs are known for their dependence on shells, which they use not only as a form of protection but also as their home. Without a shell, hermit crabs would not survive for very long. They would be vulnerable to predators and environmental hazards, such as dehydration and overheating.

In addition, hermit crabs require the shelter that shells provide for the successful molting process. The molting process in hermit crabs is a critical event where they shed their exoskeleton and start the process of growing a new one. During this time, their bodies are soft and vulnerable, and they need the protection of their shells to survive.

While it is possible for a hermit crab to survive for a short period without a shell, it is not sustainable for its long-term survival. Without a shell, hermit crabs are unable to engage in activities such as foraging for food, searching for a mate, and general movement. This will ultimately lead to their death if not rectified.

Can Hermit Crabs Live Without a Shell?

It is often wondered if hermit crabs can live without a shell, and the answer is no. A hermit crab without a shell is akin to a human without clothes, they would be completely exposed to the elements and predators. The shell is a vital part of the hermit crab’s body that provides essential protection.

When hermit crabs are kept as pets, there is a possibility that they may outgrow their shells, leaving them at risk of not being able to find a replacement that fits well. In this scenario, the hermit crab may become stressed and start to show signs of illness.

It is also not recommended to remove a hermit crab from its shell, especially forcibly, as it can cause tremendous stress and injury to the crab. Removing a hermit crab from its shell is equivalent to leaving a person without any form of shelter, leading to significant physical and psychological harm.

What Happens When a Hermit Crab Loses Its Shell?

Losing a shell is a significant event for a hermit crab, and it can cause significant harm to the animal. When a hermit crab loses its shell, it becomes incredibly vulnerable and exposed to the dangers of its environment. Without a shell, the hermit crab is unable to protect itself from predators and environmental hazards, such as dehydration and overheating.

When a hermit crab loses its shell, its first priority is to find a new one quickly. The crab will begin to search for a new shell to replace the old one as soon as possible. However, finding a new shell that is a perfect fit can be difficult, especially in the wild, and the crab may have to search for some time before finding a suitable shell.

During the time when the hermit crab is without a shell, it is extremely vulnerable to stress, injury, and illness. Exposure to the elements can cause dehydration and overheating, which can be deadly to the animal. A hermit crab without a shell can also become stressed and stop eating, which can lead to a decline in health.

It is crucial to note that forcing a hermit crab out of its shell or removing it forcibly is traumatic and can cause significant injury and stress to the animal. It’s important to let the animal find a new suitable shell on its own.

Artificial Shell Alternatives for Pet Hermit Crabs

While hermit crabs are known for their love of shells, there are instances where they may be unable to find a suitable one, especially in captivity. Fortunately, there are artificial options available that can serve as an excellent alternative to natural shells.

One popular option for pet hermit crabs is the use of manufactured shells made from ceramic, plastic, or other materials. These materials can be molded into the proper shape to fit the hermit crab and are an excellent alternative for pet owners that cannot provide natural shells.

Other artificial alternatives include coconut shells, PVC pipes, and other hollow items that provide safe and secure homes for the hermit crab. These items can be modified to provide the right environment and meet the individual needs of each pet hermit crab.

It is essential to note that while these artificial alternatives may be suitable for some, nothing can replace the natural shell. Hermit crabs may be picky when it comes to choosing a suitable shell, and, in some cases, they may even prefer to go without any shell. Pet owners must provide an option for their pet hermit crab that mimics the natural habitat, is of the right size, is safe, and meets their needs.


In conclusion, hermit crabs cannot live without a shell. The shell provides essential protection, shelter, moisture regulation, and camouflage for the hermit crab. While there are artificial alternatives available, nothing can replace the natural shell.

Therefore, it’s critical to ensure pet hermit crabs have a suitable shell that meets their physical and environmental needs to ensure their well-being and survival. Pet owners must never forcefully remove a hermit crab from its shell or leave them without a suitable replacement, as it can cause significant harm to the animal.

With proper care and adequate housing, hermit crabs can thrive and flourish as beloved pets.

avatar Noah
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. read more...

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