When you own hermit crabs, chances are you’ll have to deal with mites at one point or another. These tiny pests are everywhere, and your ideal hermit crab setup is a perfect habitat for mites.
Mites like places that are humid, dark, warm, and have plenty of food. You may even have mites living in the substrate, on moss, or crawling on leftover food. While many of these types are harmless to your hermit crab, there are some that feed on the hermit crab itself.
These mites can cause severe discomfort, make your hermit crab ill, they can cause loss of limbs, and even shorten the hermit crab’s life if they are not treated. Keep reading as we go over what these awful pests are, how to treat them, and preventative methods.
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What Are Hermit Crab Mites?
Mites are parasites that can’t survive long on their own. They are tiny and hard to see with the unaided eye. Mites are usually no bigger than a grain of sand, or the period at the end of this sentence.
It can be difficult to identify mites on your hermit crabs, but if you see tiny specks moving around on your pet, then you have an infestation.
These parasites are tiny arachnids that feed on your hermit crab. They will bite, and burrow into your crab’s softer areas such as the joints, eyes, antennae, and the soft abdomen.
What Do Hermit Crab Mites Look Like?
Mites are very hard to see without a magnifying glass. One way to check is to inspect your hermit crab very closely. Pay close attention to softer areas such as the eyestalks, legs, antennae, and the abdomen if your hermit crab comes out of the shell.
If your hermit crabs don’t mind being handled and will walk around on your hand, you can inspect them this way. Look closely at their limbs, the shell, and especially around the eyes. Here is where a powerful magnifying glass really is a useful tool.
Don’t have one? You can get one here: JMH Magnifying Glass with Light, 30X
If you see tiny specks that look like pepper or sand, pay attention. Unfortunately, if you have sand in your enclosure, sometimes these tiny grains will stick to your crab as they move around.
While looking at these tiny specks, notice if they move or migrate on their own. If they do, then your crab has mites. Mites can be red, white, black, brown, green, or pale sand color.
How Did My Hermit Crab Get Mites?
One of the hardest questions to answer is “where did these mites come from?” Mites live all around us. We even have tiny dust mites living on us and in our beds, couches, clothing, and more. Most of these are harmless dust mites and there’s no way to get rid of them all.
Your hermit crab mites could have come in from several different ways.
- Mites can spread from crab to crab.
- Mites could have made their way into the enclosure from outside.
- You could have inadvertently brought mites in with you.
- These mites could have shown up after you brought in a new accessory, plant, or shell.
- Your hermit crab could have already had mites when you purchased it.
Because your hermit crab tank is warm, humid, and has plenty of food, tiny bugs from all over will try to find their way into it. This habitat is an ideal location for mites to live and breed.
How Long Can Hermit Crab Mites Live?
If you’re hoping to just let these mites live and disappear, that won’t happen. Mites don’t live very long lives, but they are masters of reproduction. On average, most types of mites will only live about 10 days to 2 months.
Different species can live longer, but most don’t live very long. What they do is feed, lay eggs, and start a new generation. This cycle will continue indefinitely, or until they are treated and killed.
These pests need a host to survive. Without the proper host, mites have a severely shortened lifespan. Some can only live for a day or two before dying, while others may be able to go into suspended animation for a few weeks.
When they come across a suitable host, they become active again, feed, and begin laying eggs to start a whole new colony. An infestation of mites can live on a host indefinitely because of the way they continually lay new eggs and grow more generations.
Mites won’t go away on their own.
Will Mites Kill Hermit Crabs?
Most parasites don’t set out to kill their hosts because they are dependent on the parasite’s survival, but it can happen. Depending on how severe the infestation is, mites can eventually end your hermit crab’s life.
These tiny creatures can drive your crab crazy with irritation. The mites bite, burrow, crawl all over them and drink their blood. We hate when a mosquito bites us and all we want to do is smash it!
Imagine if you had hundreds of mosquitoes constantly biting you and draining your blood, and you had no way of getting them off you. I bet you’re feeling a little itchy right now, like me!
These mites can cause untold stress on hermit crabs. They may even shed some of their limbs in search of relief. This pain, stress, and discomfort can eventually be fatal to hermit crabs if left untreated.
Mites are also a vector for other diseases. Even if the mites don’t do the hermit crab in, secondary infections or diseases can end their lives.
How To Tell If Your Hermit Crab Has Mites
It may seem like it’s impossible to tell if your hermit crab is suffering from mites unless you can see the tiny bugs. But even that step is incredibly difficult. What is a concerned owner supposed to do? How can you tell if your hermit crab is suffering from a mite infestation?
Look for erratic behaviors in your pets. While visual noticing mites on your hermit crabs are the best indicator, there are other things to look out for.
If your hermit crab starts fighting with others it could be a sign that something isn’t right with your pet. Your hermit crab may also try to pinch you and act aggressively when you handle it. This is a sign that it’s not feeling well.
Bathing may help to soothe your crab from the incessant itching, and irritation. Is your hermit crab now spending most of its time in a bath, or bathing very frequently? This could be an indication that it has mites.
Hermit crabs can regrow limbs, but it takes time. They can lose claws or limbs through fighting, accidents, or because they have a mite infestation.
If you notice that one has lost a limb, be sure to inspect it closely to make sure there isn’t an underlying condition that could cause more damage.
Depending on how long you’ve had your hermit crab, you’ll begin to pick up on their individual behaviors. This is extremely helpful, as lethargy, and erratic behaviors can be signs that something is off.
Is your nocturnal hermit crab now much more active during the day? Is your normally docile crab bullying others or trying to pinch you all the time? Does your usually calm hermit crab now dart all over, climb, and do things it normally didn’t?
These are all signs that something is bothering your pet, and it needs to be investigated further.
A happy, healthy hermit crab will get into a routine when they start to molt. But if your hermit crab usually molts every 4 to 6 months, and now is ready to molt at 2 months, there could be a problem.
It could also signify a growth spurt, but the crab could also be trying to get rid of mites. Molting could lend temporary relief. Unfortunately, the mites lay eggs, and these eggs could hatch after the molt and irritate your crab once again.
Be sure not to handle, or bother your hermit crab during the molting process, and wait until the shell is completely hardened before inspecting it for mites.
How To Treat Hermit Crab Mites
I know this all sounds like your beloved hermit crab is destined to live a short, very irritating, and miserable life, but you can treat hermit crab mites. You’ll have to treat the crabs, and then treat the enclosure to get rid of them.
Treating Your Hermit Crab For Mites
First off, don’t panic if you notice mites on your pet. They can be treated, though you’ll have to be meticulous and detailed.
Don’t go for commercial mite sprays, or pesticides as these are also lethal to hermit crabs. You’ll need a temporary enclosure for your crabs. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as your primary habitat, but it should be close.
Don’t transfer anything from the infected tank to the new or you’ll have to start all over again. You’ll need food and water bowls, hides, and some new substrate. Now you need to treat your hermit crabs.
Bathe Your Hermit Crab
Saltwater is an effective measure in getting rid of hermit crab mites. Make sure you’re using marine salt, and clean, distilled water, not table salt, and definitely not tap water.
Soak your hermit crab in saline water for about 10 minutes. They need to be completely submerged for this to work. Hermit crabs can hold their breath for about 20 to 30 minutes, but if they are feeling bad, they may need to come up earlier for a breath.
If during the 10 minute soak, your hermit crab begins to climb out, let it emerge for a few minutes, then soak it again to complete the 10 minute cycle. You could soak your crab for 5 minutes, remove it from the water for a minute or two, then put it back in the water for the remaining 5 minutes.
Once the soak is complete, remove it from the bath, dab it with clean paper towels, and place it in the new, temporary enclosure. Repeat this process with each hermit crab in the enclosure.
Tempt Your Hermit Crabs With New Shells
While the saltwater bath will get rid of adult and juvenile mites, the eggs inside the shell may not be affected by the saltwater. Getting your hermit crabs to change shells will help this, but you can’t force a change of shell.
Make sure you have new, clean shells in the temp habitat. After your hermit crabs have bathed, they may want to switch shells because they are nice and damp, and may associate their old shell with the discomfort. Hopefully, they will readily swap shells and then you can clean the old shell.
If they don’t show any interest in swapping to a new shell, you may want to try and bribe your hermit crab. Start off by making sure the new environment is sufficiently warm and humid. Hermit crabs need high humidity to smell, and you’re going to use some sweets to entice them to change shells.
Dab something sweet on the inside of the shell. Whatever their favorite sweet snack is—jelly, honey, baby food, strawberries—just put a tiny smear on the shell to pique their interest. This may cause them to swap shells.
Your Hermit Crab May Want To Molt
After getting treated for mites, your crab may want to go into an early molt. This is especially true if they have lost any limbs. It may take 3 to 4 molts to completely grow back missing limbs though.
Just be understanding and let them go through the process. You could even help to encourage a molt by lowering the light exposure or setting a timer to shut off sooner.
But understand, that a change in lighting could cause the hermit crabs to start acting erratically or unruly, and the low light setting could attract more mites. Mites hate strong light, especially sunlight, and the lower lighting in the enclosure could attract them.
Clean And Disinfect The Enclosure
Once you have treated your hermit crabs, start disinfecting the entire habitat. You’ll have to clean or get rid of everything in the old enclosure. Remove any decorations first.
Plastic, and non-porous items such as shells, and food and water dishes need to be boiled for about 10 minutes. Then they need to be air dried and cooled before being placed in the temporary habitat.
Any driftwood, climbing wood, or other wooden decorations need to be baked in the oven at 250 degrees F for approximately 15 minutes. For extra treatment, place these pieces outside in a dry, sunny spot. They should stay outside in warm, dry weather for at least 24 hours.
The substrate needs to be bagged and thrown away. Don’t try to bake it or sterilize it. Replacing the substrate is the best way to make sure the mites are gone.
Cleaning The Tank
Once everything is removed from the tank, vacuum it out to get rid of all the tiny, dusty bits. Next, mix up a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and distilled water, and thoroughly wipe down the top, sides, and bottom of the tank. Use a moderate pressure to squish any remaining bugs.
Some sites may recommend using bleach and water solution, but bleach can be very harmful to hermit crabs and you’ll have to rinse and re-rinse anything that was touched with this solution. All traces need to be removed before putting your hermit crabs back inside.
A vinegar and water solution is just as effective, and it’s much safer.
Now that the tank is clean and disinfected, you can use a hairdryer to evaporate any moisture left. The heat will also help to kill any possible remaining parasites. To further make sure all the mites are gone, place the cleaned tank outside in a sunny spot for about 24 hours.
If the weather is cooler, you might want to leave it out for an extra 24 to 48 hours just to be on the safe side. When these steps are all completed, add new substrate, replace the disinfected (or new) decorations and bowls back in the habitat, and then put your hermit crabs back into their newly cleaned home.
How Can I Prevent Another Mite Infestation?
Mites are all over the place, and even after you thoroughly sanitize the enclosure, you could see them again. Some mites will not affect your hermit crabs and will only live in the soil and feed on discarded food, or microscopic bits in the substrate.
There isn’t much you can do to absolutely prevent all mite infestations, but thorough cleaning and proper maintenance will go a long way in keeping them at bay.
Be sure to spot clean the “crabitat” daily. Removing any uneaten food, spilled food, and feces goes a long way in keeping mites away. If there aren’t many strong, attractive smells coming from the enclosure, then it will not be as enticing to mites and other insects.
Feeding your hermit crabs organic foods can help reduce mite infestations. Washing all fruits and vegetables before cutting them up and serving them is a good habit to get into.
Following a regular deep cleaning schedule is another way to keep your hermit crabs happy, healthy, and mite free. Ideally, you should be cleaning everything in the habitat about once every two months.
Finally, be sure to clean and sanitize anything you put into the habitat. This includes new decorations, hides, climbing toys, and serving dishes. Boiling, baking, or cleaning them with a vinegar and water solution will kill any potential mites or other critters that could be trying to hitch a ride.
Can I get mites by handling an infected hermit crab?
The mites that feed on hermit crabs won’t want a human host. While they won’t colonize your skin, and they won’t transmit any diseases or infections to a human, they can cause problems elsewhere.
Mites found in hermit crab enclosures can get into some human food sources such as grains and flour, or they may get into books or other paper sources and damage them. While these mites won’t harm humans, they can cause problems in our houses.
There are tiny white bugs on my hermit crab’s food, should I be worried about these?
What you’re probably seeing are food mites. While they typically won’t harm your hermit crab, they can be annoying and gross looking. To get rid of them, you’ll have to follow the steps outlined above for the enclosure cleaning.
If you do see tiny bugs in the enclosure, be sure to closely inspect all of your hermit crabs to make sure they aren’t infected with mites as well.
Try to follow a strict cleaning procedure to prevent another infestation of food mites.
Is hydrogen peroxide safe for hermit crabs?
Hydrogen peroxide is toxic to hermit crabs and many other types of marine animals. It can be used to disinfect the glass enclosure, but it will have to be rinsed very thoroughly to remove all traces. Very hot water or white vinegar is a safer disinfectant, and cleaning solution for hermit crabs.
Is vinegar safe for hermit crabs?
Store bought white vinegar is safe for cleaning your hermit crab habitat. Just make sure anything that you clean with vinegar is completely dry before putting it back in the tank. Also, never bathe your hermit crab in anything but distilled room temperature water or marine saltwater.
That’s All Folks
While hermit crabs and mites might be a fact of life, you don’t have to let them rule the “crabitat.” Close inspections of your hermit crabs, keeping everything clean, and following a regular cleaning routine can definitely reduce the possibility of getting them.
If your hermit crabs are suffering from mites, a refreshing saltwater bath and thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the crabitat will get rid of them.
More hermit crab guides
- How to pick the best hermit crab tank
- Choosing the best substrate for hermit crabs
- The best foods for hermit crabs
- How to set upyour hermit crab tank
- How to care for your hermit crab
- A list of different types of hermit crabs
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