How To Tell If a Hermit Crab Is Dead


by Simon Griffiths


No Comments

As much as you love your hermit crab, the time will come when you have to say goodbye. Of course, you can delay their demise by providing them with an ideal home so that they are happy. You can also buy them along with a friend. Hermit crabs in their natural habitat will thrive in groups, so buying only one will only result in them becoming very lonely and stressed.

Sometimes it is actually difficult to ascertain whether or not your hermit crab is dead.

Hermit crabs are nocturnal, meaning that they are mostly active at night.  So what happens if you notice your hermit crab hasn’t touched its food or water for days on end? 

What of the time it remains burrowed in the sand for a while with little movement?

 Is it dead?

 Is it sick?

Or is it molting?

 It can be difficult to tell the difference, but in this article, there are a few pointers to look at.


How To Tell If a Hermit Crab Is Dead?

Some of the aspects to look at range from its appearance, to its smell and its general behavior.

1. Appearance

A molting hermit crab will appear greyish because of its exoskeleton being stripped from its nutrients and calcium so that it can be used to harden the new exoskeleton. Sometimes you will even notice a shed and think that it is a dead hermit crab, so you need to look carefully.

Furthermore, sometimes tiny bugs will gather around a hermit crab which means that it is definitely dead and has begun decomposing.

Another definite sign that a hermit crab is dead is a black abdomen that has developed mold.

2. Smell

The smell of a dying or dead hermit crab becomes noticeable after a few days. A molting hermit crab has a bad distinct smell, but you will definitely be able to tell a hermit crab is dead from its smell. A dead hermit crab has a fishy and foul almost rotten smell. This is because the hermit crab starts to decompose and sometimes it is eaten by fellow hermit crabs.

Related Do Hermit Crabs Smell Bad and What Causes Odor In The Tank?  

3. Stiffness

When a hermit crab dies, its body parts become hard and stiff. You can check the stiffness of its body by trying to touch it with a spoon or some tongs. All its body parts will have become hard, even the antennae which are usually downward facing will be upward and stiff. 

If it twitches a little bit from being poked then it is still alive.

4. Movement

Even though hermit crabs are nocturnal, they do move about from time to time to eat, drink, or even take a dip in the water bowl. If your hermit crab does not move for a long time, you might want to inspect it. 

Sometimes they will stay burrowed in the sand even for months when they are molting. They are especially vulnerable at this time, so they must not be disturbed. The only way you can truly check is to try and create a small opening in the sand to smell it or check for mold.

Do not dig the crab out, you might accidentally kill it.

If they are not burrowed in the sand and have remained still for a long period of time, you can start checking for signs of mold. You can also move them from their original position and if you notice no changes or tracks in the sand, it is probably dead.

5. Leaving Shell

A dead hermit crab will break loose from its shell so any sudden movement will make it fall out of its shell. To check if it is dead, you can try shaking it a little and if it falls out immediately, it has passed away.

Related How Do You Remove A Hermit Crab From Its Shell and Is It Safe?

How long do hermit crabs live?

Interestingly enough, hermit crabs can live for decades in the wild, with some of them even living 20-30 years. The average lifespan of a hermit crab is 15 years. 

Fun fact: The world’s oldest hermit crab lived for 44 years in a Florida Retirement Community. His name was Jonathan Livingston and he passed away just recently in 2021.

Many people have claimed that hermit crabs should not be kept as pets because their lifespan is largely reduced. Most hermit crabs kept as pets allegedly do not make it past three years or even one year, because of poor caring practices from their owners.

Related How Long do Pet Hermit Crabs Live in Captivity?


What do I do with a dead hermit crab?

Once you have confirmed that the hermit crab is dead, you can decide what to do depending on your level of attachment to it.

Do not flush dead hermit crabs in the toilet, since the toxins and bacteria in their bodies will contaminate the water supply.

You can bury your hermit crab in a little deep hole in the ground if you have an emotional attachment to them or put them in a plastic bag and throw it away in the garbage.

Once they die, the sand they lay in also becomes contaminated so it should also be thrown out.

How do I remove a dead hermit crab from its shell?

First of all, you must be completely sure that the hermit crab is dead. If it isn’t, forcefully removing it from its shell will definitely kill it. 

The bodies of hermit crabs will mostly become loose and rigid so it should not be difficult to remove them from their shells.

Some people wiggle them in salt water or put them under a running water faucet and it falls right out. Others have used hot water and tongs to remove them. You can also put it in a ziplock bag and freeze it for a few minutes and attempt to pull it out.

For all these methods, it is highly likely that the crab will not come out in one piece.

If you need to use the shell for another hermit crab, you should clean it first by either boiling it or soaking it in bleach or vinegar. After boiling, you can spray them with some salt water and put it out for the other hermit crabs to try.

Conclusion – How To Tell If a Hermit Crab Is Dead

A foul fishy smell and mold are the major indicators of a dead hermit crab. Make sure that the hermit crab is dead and is not just molting or stressed. If it is stressed, make sure the humidity and temperature are ideal, and try putting out fresh food and both saltwater and freshwater

If it is dead, make sure you dispose of it properly and clean the shell before giving it to another hermit crab. 

Simon Griffiths

Hi guys, my name is Simon, a fellow pet lover. I love everything about traditional and exotic pets so I am here to help you create a better home for your pets.

Leave a Comment