Healthy hermit crabs will molt and grow in captivity. They will even mate and produce eggs, however, raising those eggs to be land dwelling hermit crabs is incredibly challenging.
Despite what pet store employees tell you, no one who is currently selling hermit crabs is breeding and raising their own stock.
A few hobbyists are working hard to master the process with increasing success. The most successful to date (to our knowledge) is Mary Akers with 200+ captive-bred babies born in the fall of 2018, 700+ in 2019, and more than 500 in 2020. She has been the most successful in terms of bringing the largest number of survivors to land. Many others have been successful but with far fewer overall survivors. Mary Akers has been so successful breeding hermit crabs in her home that she founded Hermit House, a non-profit organization devoted to the protection of wild hermit crabs. As of 2023, Hermit House has five successful hermit crab breeders and twelve aspiring breeders enrolled in the mentoring program.
Mary Akers also founded Crab Con, the annual international hermit crab conference.
The first person to raise captive-bred hermit crabs (outside of a research lab) is Stu Wools-Cobb (Australia) and he generously shared the details of his process so that others could also try captive breeding.
Important milestones in hermit crab breeding
- The first C. clypeatus captive breeding was accomplished by Tammy Weick (United States) in 2008.
- The second C. clypeatus captive breeding was accomplished by Dany (Naalide Germany) in 2015.
- C. clypeatus captive breeding was accomplished by Mary Akers (United States) in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
- The first C. variabilis captive breeding was accomplished by Nat Addicted to HCs (Australia) in 2015.
- C. variabilis captive breeding was accomplished by Sue Brown (Australia) in 2016.
- The first C. violascens captive breeding was accomplished by Curlz (Germany) in 2012, then again in 2013 and 2015.
- The first C. purpureus captive breeding was accomplished by Curlz in 2015.
- The first C. lila (at the time believed to be C. purpureus) captive breeding was accomplished by Tammy Wiek (United States) in 2008.
- The second C. lila captive breeding was accomplished by Darcy Madsen in 2022.
- C. lila captive breeding was accomplished by Mary Akers in 2022.
- The first C. compressus captive breeding was accomplished by Mary Akers in 2020.
- The first C. perlatus captive breeding was accomplished by Mary Akers in 2022.
- The first second generation of captive-bred C. clypeatus was accomplished by Mary Akers in 2021.
- The first second generation of captive-bred hermit crabs (C. variabilis) was accomplished by Sue Brown (Australia) in 2021.
- C. clypeatus captive breeding was accomplished by Stacy Boltz (United States) in 2022.
- C. variabilis captive breeding was accomplished by Tiffany Boer (Australia) in 2022.
In the wild, the mating season is May-November, with some species having longer or shorter seasons depending on geographical location, and that seems to apply to captive hermit crabs as well. There is some evidence that C. rugosus will mate no matter the time of year. The ideal temperature range for mating is 82.4F/28C. Environmental temperature plays a role in mating and spawning as well as the lunar cycle..
The males will compete to mate with the female, with the dominant male guarding her against other males until she is ready to mate. Hermit crab mating and guarding behavior can be seen at All Things Crabby. The female may not be receptive to mating even though a male guards her. In some Coenobita species, other males may attempt to force the female to drop her eggs early so they can mate with her.
Mating occurs while still in the shell but with both hermit crab bodies extended so their abdomens are very close. Male hermit crabs have a large penis (relative to body size) to allow them to mate without leaving the safety of their shell. The male hermit crab rolls the female on the back of her shell and gently rocks her shell and strokes her legs. The female extends far enough so that the male can place his sex tubes on her gonophores (openings), then he deposits his spermatophore. Hermit crabs mating video – C. clypeatus Hermit crabs mating video – C. brevimanus
Some owners may confuse mating for an attempt to steal the female’s shell. C. rugosus has demonstrated a much more vigorous mating which can be alarming the first time an owner witnesses the behavior. Stacy Griffith reports that mating between her hermit crabs (species C. clypeatus and C. brevimanus) appeared very calm and might even be considered gentle.
The eggs are believed to be fertilized externally as they are extruded. Extrusion of hermit crab eggs can be seen at All Things Crabby.com. The female will carry her eggs until they are mature enough to spawn, typically 3-4 weeks, physiological and ecological factors will play a role in the duration of incubation. The female crab releases her eggs in or near the ocean where they hatch on contact with the ocean water.
The zoeae will progress through several molt stages over the next month. The number of stages and the length of time spent in each stage differs between Coenobita species with Coenobita variabilis metamorphosing to a true crab the fastest. Explore all the different hermit crab larval stages by species at Coenobita Species.com
At the Megalopa* stage the zoea takes its first shell. The Megalopa stage is highly cannibalistic in captive breedings. Soon after the Megalopa takes its first shell, it exits the ocean. The Megalopa digs into the sand to molt and becomes a true hermit crab, now terrestrial and breathing air through modified gills and their abdominal lung.
Land hermit crabs (Coenobita species) have been observed by our captive breeders (raising them from birth so that the age is well documented), to exhibit early mating behaviors at two years of age and to be sexually mature enough to mate and produce eggs at three years old.
To replicate this in captivity you will need a Kriesel set up to mimic the ocean tide pool zone. Frequent feedings and water changes are needed to maintain the proper environment. Zoeae are fed nannochloropsis, Marine Snow, decapsulated brine shrimp, and live Artemia, among a variety of other phytoplankton and zooplankton. A transition tank will be needed for the Megalopa to come to land as well as many incredibly tiny gastropod shells.
From her very first attempt in 2017, Mary Akers has documented and freely shared the methods of her breeding process in diary format. These can be read on her blog: www.maryakers.com/inthecrabitat
Crab Central Station has multiple videos of hermit crabs breeding and how to rear the larvae in captivity.
Thu, Oct. 12th, 2006, 10:40 pm
Keeping and breeding land hermit crabs
Hello. My name is Vanessa Pike-Russell. Stu Wools-Cobb visited my website on land hermit crab care
and emailed me after reading my care sheet on gender and reproduction. At the time it had been unheard
of for land hermit crabs to have successfully reproduced in captivity and the resulting eggs raised to
juvenile (air-breathing) stage of development.
A few emails, phone calls later, and Stu sent me a copy of his booklet that was created in part for his
local aquarist society. Through his extensive background in breeding fish and raising brine shrimp he
was able to raise the hermit crab zoea with the materials he had on hand (see pages 10-12) and fed them
a diet rich in nutrients similar to those they would have access to in the inter tidal pools of the wild. A
steady routine of hand-feeding every two hours contributed to his success – and it is his desire to share
his knowledge and success with other land hermit crab enthusiasts with the hope that others will obtain
Before you view this document, you are asked to be very mindful that it is for personal viewing only. Do not sell, re-sell, publish or distribute this booklet for commercial purposes. Any plagiarism of content contained within this booklet may result in legal action. All work remains the sole intellectual property of Stu Wools-Cobb and should not be used in any way without permission.
Stu Wools-Cobb has given written permission for Vanessa Pike-Russell of About Land Hermit Crabs
(www.aboutlandhermitcrabs and http://users.tpg.com.au/vanessap/ ) permission to share this
information on her personal site and on the magazine The Crab Street Journal of which she is a
producer and webmaster. Any other use of this material is considered in breach of this agreement so
please be very mindful of the terms on which it is shared.
A Method of Keeping and Breeding Land Hermit Crabs by Stu Wools-Cobb who has successfully bred and raised land hermit crab within his home.
Observations of hermit crabs mating
A hermit crab that is gravid (carrying eggs) will look like the drawing by Alcock, below. “A female crab attaches her eggs to the fine setae on her pleopods using a glue like substance.” (Fox, S. 2000)
Helfman (1997a) described the copulatory behaviour of B. latro from observation of a single event. Both male and female crabs were in intermolt phase during copulation. The male approaches the female slowly, clasps the dorsal meri of the chelipeds, and quickly moves forward to turn the female onto her back. Abdomens are extended, the male deposits the spermataphore, and the pair disengages.
The copulatory behaviour of other coenobitids apparently lasts much longer than for Birgus. Hazlett (1966) and De Wilde (1973) depicted the migration and reproductive behaviours of Coenobita clypeatus, but no copulatory activity was recorded. Observations of mating of C. clypeatus in the field, confirmed by the presence of a spermataphore on the female, have been made (S. Gilchrist, unpub). Initiation begins by the male grasping the aperture of the female’s shell and moving her shell from side to side. A series of rocking and tapping motions either stimulates the female to extend from the shell, in which case mating proceeds ventral to ventral, or the female retracts father into the shell and the male releases the shell. Page and Willason (1982) noted copulatory behaviour in C. perlatus. Mating occurs during migration to the sea proceeding larval release. Mating is ventral to ventral with both crabs about three-quarters out of their shells. Males pass the spermataphore to the females using the modified pereiopods. Mating may occur before release of the developed egg mass.”
(Dunham, D. W., and S. L. Gilchrist. 1988. p. 119)
Ovigerous females may be taking shelter at other points along this beach showing a cryptic habit during daylight and active at night as C. compressus, a common occurrence observed among ovigerous females of crustaceans; Particularly for C. scaevola and other coenobitids showed either daily or seasonal migrations depending upon rainfall. Also, spawning females of C. clypeatus presented an unusual pattern since they did not enter the water, but move toward the sea at low tide to drop or fling their eggs onto the wet rocks. (Shell utilization by the land hermit crab Coenobita scaevola from Wadi El-Gemal, Red Sea by Salam WS, Mantellato FL & Hanafy MH)
Here is a video of Stacy Griffith’s Coenobita clypeatus hermit crabs mating in August 2018:
Here is a video of Stacy Griffith’s Coenobita brevimanus hermit crabs mating in May 2018:
Here is a video compilation from a hermit crab owner whose crabs mated:
You can find more of her hermit crab videos on YouTube
Hermit crab egg fertilization
Brodie, R.J. 1998. Movements of the terrestrial hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus (Crustacea, Coenobitidae). Revista de Biologia Tropical 46 (Suppl. 4): 181–185.
DeWilde, P. A. W. J. 1973. On the ecology of Coenobita clypeatus in Curaçao. Stud. Fauna Curaçao Other Caribb. Isl.144:1–138.
Dunham, D. W., and S. L. Gilchrist. 1988. Behavior. Pp. 97-138 in Biology of the Land Crabs, W. W. Burggren and B. R. McMahon, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fletcher, W.J., Brown, I.W., Fielder, D.R., and Obed, A. 1991a.
Structure and dynamics of populations. Pp. 61–85 in: Brown, I.W.,
and Fielder, D.R. (eds), The coconut crab: aspects of Birgus latro
biology and ecology in Vanuatu. Canberra. Aciar Monographs 8.
Fletcher, W.J., Brown, I.W., Fielder, D.R., and Obed, A. 1991b. Moulting and growth characteristics. Pp. 35–60 in: Brown, I.W., and Fielder, D.R. (eds), The coconut crab: aspects of Birgus latro biology and ecology in Vanuatu. Canberra, Aciar Monographs 8.
Fox, S. Hermit Crabs: A Complete Owners Pet. Barron Books Pub.
Mamasaki, Matsuda, Takano, Sugizaki, Murakami, Dan, Kitada 2016. Thermal Adaptations of embryos of six terrestria hermit crab species
Hazlett, B.A., 1966. Social behavior of the Paguridae and Diogenidae of Curaçao. Studies on the Fauna of Curaçao and other Caribbean Islands, 23: pp.1-143
Hazlett, B.A. 1981. The behavioral ecology of hermit crabs. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 12: 1–22.
Helfman, G. S. 1973. Ecology and Behaviour of the Coconut Crab, Birgus latro (L). Masters thesis, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
Hicks, J., H. Rumpff, and H. Yorkston. 1990. Christmas Crabs., Golden Earth Design and Printing, Singapore.
Gray, H. S. 1995. Christmas Island Naturally., Scott Four Colour Print, Perth, Western Australia. Pp. 11–145.
Harvey, A. Text from a personal email to Vanessa Pike-Russell from Alan Harvey regarding determining the gender of a land hermit crab. Shared with permission. For more information about Alan Harvey and his research, please visit the link below
Jones, S. and Morgan, G.J. (1994) A Field Guide to Crustaceans of Australian Waters. Western Australian Museum. Chatswood, N.S.W. (Australia) : Reed Books, 1994. ISBN 0 7301 0403 6
Lowry, J.K. (1999 onwards). ‘Crustacea, the Higher Taxa: Description, Identification, and Information Retrieval.’ Version: 2 October 1999. http://crustacea.net/
Morgan, S. G., and J. H. Christy. 1995. Adaptive significance of the timing of larval release by crabs. Am. Nat.145:457–479.
Sato & Yoseda, 2008
Page, H.M., and Willason, 1982. Distribution Patterns of terrestrial hermit crabs at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands. Pacific Sci. 36:107-117
Vannini, M., and G. Chelazzi. 1981. Orientation of Coenobita rugosus (Crustacea: Anomura): A field study on Aldabra. Mar. Biol.64:135–140.
Vannini, M., and S. Cannicci. 1995. Homing behaviour and possible cognitive maps in crustacean decapods. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol.193:67–91.
Wolcott, T. G. 1988. Ecology. Pp. 55-96 in: Biology of Land Crabs (W. Burggren and B. McMahon, Eds.), Cambridge University Press, New York.
*Dorothy Bliss writes “In, pagurid anomurans, such as the king crab and hermit crabs, the postlarvae is called a glaucothoe. …the postlarva of brachyuran crab has its own distinctive name, megalops-or megalopa.” Megalopa is commonly used in place of glaucothoe by breeders today so I’ve opted to use that term as well.