How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live? (In Captivity & In the Wild)

Hermit crab in a striped orange shell moving across the sand

Hermit crabs are popular pets known for their unique looks and ease of care. But a key thing for hermit crab owners to know is how long these crabs live, both when they’re kept as pets and when they’re in the wild.

In the wild, hermit crabs can live up to 30 years. However, in captivity, their lifespan is usually shorter, averaging between 10 and 15 years. This notable difference is primarily due to variations in their care at home compared to their natural environment.

But did you know that captive hermit crabs can sometimes live over 40 years? What makes this possible? Read along as this guide explains the ins and outs of hermit crab lifespan.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live in the Wild?

Hermit crab with a ridged brown shell on a sandy surface

Hermit crabs living in the wild usually live longer than those kept as pets. They can live for a few decades, with some species living up to 30 years. These extended lifespans are attributed to their natural habitats, which provide optimal conditions for survival.

In general, wild hermit crabs live longer because they eat natural foods, live with other crabs, and don’t have the stress of being in a cage.

In the wild, they have everything they need: good food and the right kind of place to live. These factors are likely what contribute to their longer lifespans in the wild.

There are two types of hermit crabs, land and marine, and their lifespans are different. Land hermit crabs or terrestrial hermit crabs, which you often find in tropical places, can live for 10 to 30 years

Meanwhile, marine hermit crabs, living mostly under the sea, usually have a shorter life of about 5 to 15 years, even in the wild.

When people talk about hermit crabs as pets, they’re mostly talking about land hermit crabs. These are the ones you see in pet shops and are easier to take care of at home, either in a tank or a glass box.

Marine hermit crabs need to live in water and need a more special setup, so they’re not as common as pets.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live in Captivity?

In general, captive hermit crabs can live for about 10 to 15 years, although this can vary based on the species and the quality of care they receive. Their shorter lives are mainly due to improper living conditions, unsuitable diets, and lack of social interaction.

In some cases, captive hermit crabs only live up to a year or so due to poor living conditions or improper care. This is why knowing exactly what environment and food hermit crabs need is crucial. 

By creating a living space that’s close to their natural habitat and knowing how to interact with them, owners can make a big difference in their health and lifespan.

On the flip side, there have been reports of captive hermit crabs living much longer under optimal care conditions. Notably, a captive hermit crab named Jonathan Livingstone set a record by living up to 44 years. 

He was purchased from a seafront gift store in Delaware in 1976 and lived in the Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers, Florida, before passing away in 2021. 

Factors Influencing Hermit Crab Lifespan

Hermit crab with a white spiral shell

The lifespan of hermit crabs, whether in the wild or in captivity, is influenced by a variety of factors. Understanding these can help ensure these fascinating creatures live a full and healthy life.

Here are some of the factors affecting how long a hermit crab lives:

  • Habitat Conditions: The environment in which a hermit crab lives plays a crucial role in its longevity. If they’re kept as pets, their tank should be a lot like where they’d live in nature, with the right warmth, moisture, and space.
  • Diet: Proper nutrition is key. Hermit crabs thrive on a varied diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. In the wild, they have access to a natural diet, but in captivity, it’s up to the owner to provide balanced and appropriate food. 
  • Social Interaction: Hermit crabs like company. They usually hang out in groups in the wild, so being alone can be challenging for them. Captive crabs cannot be solitary and should have friends in the tank. The lack of company can greatly shorten their lives.
  • Stress Factors: Stress can shorten a hermit crab’s life. This can come from rough handling, noisy places, or moving them around too much. A calm, steady home helps keep them healthy.
  • Healthcare: Watching for signs of sickness and dealing with them right away is important to stop small problems from getting worse.
  • Genetics and Species: Different kinds of hermit crabs and their genes play a role in how long they live. Some types just naturally have longer lives than others.
  • Shell Quality: Good shells are a big deal for hermit crabs. They need to switch shells as they grow, so not having the right shells can be stressful or even life-threatening to them. An interesting study on Pagurus bernhardus suggests that shell availability directly impacts growth, fertility, and longevity in the species. 

Studying each of these factors does not just influence the longevity of hermit crabs; it affects their overall quality of life, as well.

Different Species of Hermit Crabs and Their Lifespans 

The lifespan of a hermit crab depends a lot on its species, along with the quality of care and the environment it lives in. Different species have different lifespans. Let’s take a look at the specifics.

Average Lifespan of Land Hermit Crab Species

Land Hermit Crab SpeciesAverage Lifespan in the WildAverage Lifespan in Captivity
Caribbean Hermit Crab or Purple PincherUp to 30 yearsUp to 20 years
Ecuadorian Hermit CrabUp to 30 years10 to 30 years
RuggieUp to 30 yearsUp to 10 years
Strawberry Hermit CrabUp to 30 years25 to 30 years
CavipeUp to 30 years3 to 12 years
Indonesian Hermit Crab12 to 70 yearsData Deficient

For land hermit crabs, the lifespan can be quite extensive in the wild, often reaching up to 30 years, with one notable species even living up to 70 years. In captivity, however, the lifespan tends to be shorter. 

Species like the Caribbean Hermit Crab and Strawberry Hermit Crab tend to live longer in well-maintained captive environments, while others like the Cavipe have a noticeably reduced lifespan in captivity. 

Average Lifespan of Marine Hermit Crab Species

Marine Hermit Crab SpeciesAverage Lifespan in the WildAverage Lifespan in Captivity
Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit CrabUp to 30 years1 to 2 years
Electric Orange Hermit CrabUp to 30 yearsUp to 20 years
Halloween Hermit CrabUp to 30 years8 to 10 years
Polka Dot Hermit CrabUp to 30 years3 to 5 years
Scarlet Reef Hermit CrabUp to 30 years4 years
Zebra Hermit Crab Up to 30 yearsUp to 15 years

If you will notice, there is a similar trend with marine hermit crab species. While most can live up to 30 years in their natural marine environments, their lifespans are significantly shorter in captivity. 

This trend is especially true for species like the Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab and the Polka Dot Hermit Crab. 

However, the Zebra Hermit Crab and Electric Orange Hermit Crab are exceptions, as they can live up to 15 to 20 years in captivity, which is quite long for marine hermit crabs.

Common Causes of Death in Hermit Crabs

Hermit crab with a textured greenish brown shell

Hermit crabs, both in the wild and in captivity, face various risks that can cut their life short. Understanding these risks is crucial for providing proper care, especially for pet hermit crabs.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most common causes of death in hermit crabs:

  • Improper Humidity and Temperature: Hermit crabs need specific environmental conditions to thrive. Both excessively high or low humidity levels and extreme temperatures can severely harm them, potentially causing early death.
  • Poor Diet: Nutrition is crucial for hermit crabs. A diet lacking in variety and essential nutrients can lead to health issues and even death.
  • Stress from Handling or Environment: Frequent handling or living in unsuitable conditions can cause stress in hermit crabs, which negatively affects their health and can lead to early death.
  • Molting Complications: In hermit crabs, the molting process is critical for growth and health. Complications during molting, like the inability to shed the exoskeleton or to recover afterward, can be fatal.
  • Toxic Substances: Hermit crabs are highly susceptible to toxins. Exposure to harmful chemicals found in some cleaning products, paints, or contaminated water can lead to their death.
  • Physical Traumas: Hermit crabs enjoy climbing, but in an artificial habitat, falls from unsafe heights or encounters with sharp objects can cause injuries, which can be fatal.
  • Attacks by Animals: In captivity or in the wild, hermit crabs can be vulnerable to attacks by other crabs or animals, such as predatory pets. These attacks can lead to serious injuries or even death.
  • Entrapment: In the wild, hermit crabs risk entrapment in plastic debris, particularly in polluted coastal areas. This can lead to immobility, starvation, and death.

On a related note regarding entrapment, I came across a 2020 study regarding the dangers of plastic entrapment to hermit crabs.

The study focused on two remote islands, revealing that plastic debris on beaches and in coastal vegetation is a significant cause of death in hermit crabs. 

Alarmingly, it’s estimated that approximately 570,000 crabs become trapped in debris annually on these islands, often leading to death due to the crabs getting stuck or injured by discarded plastic. 

This research emphasizes the urgent need to tackle plastic pollution, as it impacts not only hermit crabs but also the other species and ecosystems they inhabit.

How to Make Your Hermit Crab Live Longer

To help your hermit crab live longer, provide a proper habitat with the right humidity and temperature and a varied diet. Handle them minimally to avoid stress and create an environment with climbing and hiding areas. 

Also, keep their habitat clean, avoid overcrowding, and regularly check for illness. Most importantly, observe your pet hermit crab and seek veterinary advice when needed.

Here’s a simple checklist to help you keep your hermit crab in tip-top shape:

  1. Provide them with the most suitable environment
  2. Ensure a balanced diet
  3. Provide them with companions
  4. Allow a sufficient living space
  5. Maintain the cleanliness of their habitat
  6. Handle them gently and infrequently
  7. Provide access to both fresh and saltwater
  8. Offer various shell sizes for them to choose from
  9. Regularly observe for any signs of illness

By staying on top of this simple checklist, you’re taking important steps to ensure a healthy and happy life for your hermit crab.

Watch this video to learn some more tips on caring for hermit crabs:

Basic Hermit Crab Care - How to Have a Happy Hermit Crab | By Crab Central Station

Frequently Asked Questions

Hermit crab on a sandy bottom

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live Without Food?

Hermit crabs can survive several days to two weeks without eating. They store food and water in their shells and moisten their gills to remain healthy​​​​​​.

How Long Do Hermit Crabs Live Without Water?

Hermit crabs can survive for up to two weeks without access to freshwater and saltwater, which are essential for regulating their respiratory rate and keeping their gills moist. 

In hot, dry conditions, their survival time without water may be shorter​​​​​​​​.

How Long Can a Hermit Crab Live Without a Shell?

While there is no definitive length of time, some hermit crabs can live for several months without a shell. However, they are very vulnerable during this time and can fall victim to predators or harsh living conditions​​.

How Do You Tell How Old a Hermit Crab Is?

Determining the exact age of a hermit crab is challenging. One method is to observe the thickness of their antennae and the ‘teeth’ on the cheliped/grasping claw

Generally, larger crabs are older than smaller ones. The most accurate way to age a hermit crab is by examining the otoliths (small mineral deposits) for growth rings after the crab has died​​​​.

So, what do you think about hermit crabs? If you have any ideas on how to care for and prolong the life of a hermit crab, or if you have any questions about their lifespans, leave a comment below!

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