Re:Hermit crabs

#4641
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Kent & Liam:

I’m sorry to hear about the trouble you been having with the aggressive hermit crabs. You did the right thing by removing the hermits. Crabs and crustaceans in general are opportunistic predators that are likely to attack anything they can overpower.

They may be entirely peaceful and inoffensive when they are small, but even a small crab can cause a lot of trouble as it grows. They may double in size following a molt (i.e., ecdysis) so they grow surprisingly fast, and even a tiny crab that’s completely docile at first can grow large enough to turn predatory almost literally overnight if it’s a species that reaches a respectable size. One day it’s a miniature crab that’s cute and entertaining in its own bumbling sort of way, and the next day following a successful molt, it can become a dangerous bully that regard its tankmates with a culinary eye.

And always bear in mind that medium-to-large crustaceans are never completely trustworthy in the aquarium. Even the most harmless and seemingly inoffensive crabs can cause trouble under certain circumstances. For example, not long ago I heard from a hobbyist that had been keeping a decorator crab in his seahorse tank. All went well at first and there were no problems of any kind for months until, for no apparent reason, the crab suddenly began to quite deliberately amputate portions of the seahorses’ tails. It was not attacking the seahorses as prey or attempting to eat its mutilated victims, it was merely methodically harvesting portions of their anatomy with which to adorn itself! It was simply doing what all decorator crabs do — snipping off and gathering bits and pieces of its immediate environment to attach to itself as a form of natural camouflage. It just goes to show, with crabs you can never be sure how things are going to work out…

You can keep hermit crabs with seahorses as aquarium janitors went to have to be very selective about it. Not all hermit crabs are created equal, and if you’re going to have hermits in your seahorse tank it’s very important to stick with the micro-hermit crabs that don’t get any bigger than the size of a marble (including their shell).

When it comes to sanitation engineers, I prefer an assortment of snails with just a few of the microhermits. Acceptable species for a seahorse tank include the Dwarf Blue-leg (Clibanarius tricolor), Left-handed (Calcinus laevimanus), Mexican Red Legged Hermits (Clibanarius digueti) and above all, Scarlet Reef hermit crabs (Paguristes cadenati), which are my personal favorites.

Stick with hermits like the above, which are known as micro hermits because they start out tiny and stay small. Avoid Anomura species of hermit crabs no matter how small they are, however, because they will kill Astraea snails to obtain their shells. Also, Kent and Liam, if you don’t know what species the two smallest hermit crabs that you left in your tank are, then it’s probably best to remove them as well, to be on the safe side, sirs.

For seahorses, I like a cleanup crew consisting of a mixture of assorted snails and micro hermits (heavy on the snails but light on hermits) at a density of no more than 1-2 janitors per gallon at the very most. The snail assortment may include bumble bee snails, trocha snails, margaritas, Astrea and Cerith snails, red foot Moon snails, etc., but especially Nassarius snails.

Nassarius snails are terrific detritivores and amazingly active for snails. They’ll bury themselves until they detect the scent of something edible, and then erupt from the sand and charge out to clean it up.

A varied assortment of snails is very desirable because different types of snails have different habits, seek out various microhabitats within the aquarium, and prefer to eat different things. Some are herbivores that feed on microalgae, and some of the herbivorous snails prefer to graze on it from the substrate, others like to to clean it from the rocks, and still others love to scrape algae off the aquarium glass. Furthermore, the different herbivorous snails tend to specialize on different types of microalgae and have definite preferences as to the types of algae they will eat, so it’s important to have a nice variety of snails that cover all the bases in that regard. It’s equally important to include some omnivorous snails in your assortment, which will go after meaty leftovers, along with the vegetarians. And you’ll want to have plenty of detritivores, too, which will feed on detritus and decaying organic matter in the aquarium

For best results, Astrea sp. snails should go in the tank as soon as the ammonia and nitrite levels are down to zero in order to keep nuisance algae from gaining a foothold in your tank. Introduced as soon as possible to a new aquarium, that has reached this cycling phase, Astrea snails effectively limit the development of all microalgae. In other words, they are good at eating diatoms, but will consume red slime and green algae as well.

But you must avoid predatory snails such as tulip snails, horse conchs, crown snails (Melanogena corona), and the venomous cone snails (Conus spp.), which can kill a human with a single sting from their harpoon like radula. Tulip snails, horse conchs, and crown conchs will hunt down and eat the other snails in your cleanup crew, whereas cone snails prey on small fishes in addition to presenting a deadly hazard to the aquarist.

For hobbyists who like to include small hermit crabs as part of their cleanup crew, you can consider a small combination of Dwarf Blue-leg (Clibanarius tricolor), Left-handed (Calcinus laevimanus), Mexican Red Legged Hermits (Clibanarius digueti) and above all, Scarlet Reef hermit crabs (Paguristes cadenati), which are my personal favorites. Again, let me stress that it’s vital to obtain dwarf or microhermit crabs for a seahorse tank — species that start out small and remain small even when they reach their maximum size, such as the species mentioned above.

The Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenati) is a colorful micro-hermit that’s a harmless herbivore. So cannibalism isn’t a concern at all for these fellows, nor are they likely to develop a taste for escargot. As hermits go, most of the time the Scarlet Reefs are perfect little gentleman and attractive to boot. I even use them in my dwarf seahorse tanks. Best of all, they eat all kinds of algae, including nuisance algae such as red, green and brown slimes, as well as green hair algae.

A mixture of the snails and micro hermits we have discussed will provide a very good balance of herbivores, omnivores, and detritivores that are all active scavengers and completely compatible with seahorses. They will clean up meatier leftovers such as frozen Mysis as well as helping to control nuisance algae.

With regard to the hermit crabs, there are a couple of other possible risks you should be aware of aside from the possibilities that the hermits could grow a large enough to be a threat to the seahorses.

For example, sometimes it works the other way around. Micro-hermit crabs are generally entertaining additions to an aquarium that do a great job as scavengers and get along great with seahorses, but over the years, I’ve had a few seahorses that were confirmed crab killers. These particular ponies were persistent hermit crab predators that specialized in plucking the hermits out of their shells and attacking their soft, unprotected abdomens, and they honed their skullduggery to a fine art. They were experts at extricating the crabs and would eat only their fleshy abdomens and discard the rest. Mind you, that was only a few individuals out of a great many Hippocampines, but I could never keep hermit crabs in the same tank with those specific seahorses.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s the micro-hermits that are the troublemakers. Most of the time, they coexist perfectly well with their fellow janitors in the cleanup crew. But I’ve had more than a few tiny hermits with a taste for escargot that persecuted snails mercilessly. These cold-blooded little assassins would kill the snails in order to appropriate their shells. Once they had dined on the former occupant, they would take up residence in their victim’s cleaned-out shell! It soon became clear that these killer crabs were driven not by hunger, but by the need for a new domicile. Once I realized they were house-hunting, I found I could curb their depredations but providing an assortment of small, empty seashells for the hermits to use. Colorful Nerite shells are ideal for this.

Because of these potential problems with the microhermit crabs, many seahorse keepers prefer to avoid the hermits altogether and compile a group of sanitation engineers and aquarium scavengers that consists entirely of assorted snails instead. That’s probably the simplest and safest option if this will be the first time you have assembled a cleanup crew for a seahorse tank.

After the tank has been up and running for several months, you can indeed add a few large Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) and/or Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) to complete your cleanup crew and add a touch of color and activity to the tank.

Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are a favorite with seahorse keepers because they eat Aiptasia rock anemones, and both the peppermints and Scarlet cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) will perform another useful service by grooming the seahorses and cleaning them of ectoparasites. As an added bonus, they reproduce regularly in the aquarium, producing swarms of larval nauplii that the seahorses love to eat.

Another thing to keep in mind when introducing cleaner shrimp to your aquarium is that they are more sensitive to water quality and rapid changes in pH, temperature, or salinity than fishes are, meaning the shrimp need to be acclimated more carefully and gradually. Whereas drip acclimation should be avoided for seahorses that have been on the shipping bag for 24 hours or more, it is the perfect way to acclimate delicate shrimp from your LFS. They will do best it drip acclimated to the new aquarium over a period of several hours to allow them to adjust to any differences in the water parameters very gradually.

Shrimp that are introduced to a new aquarium too abruptly will not flourish and are liable to die within a day or two from the stress of acclimation, unable to adjust to any significant differences in pH or salinity, or they simply fail to thrive and expire a week or two later for no apparent reason. If the shock is too great, they will autotomize, dropping legs, claws and/or antennae immediately upon being introduced to the new aquarium conditions.

Best of luck assembling a nice assortment of sanitation engineers and aquarium janitors that will make the perfect cleanup crew for your particular setup, Kent and Liam!

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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