Is our little streaker molting, dead, or dying?

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Topic author
MomOfTheAsylum
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Sep 14, 2020 7:17 am
Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Is our little streaker molting, dead, or dying?

Post by MomOfTheAsylum » Mon Sep 14, 2020 9:32 am

Since you've come to the emergency forum, we know you want a fast answer to your question. In order for us to figure out the problem as quickly as possible, we ask that you answer the following questions as best you can. Some of them may seem odd, but they're all designed to give us the information we need to give you a good solution for your problem. The things in the [ brackets ] are there to make this post easier to read once submitted. Thanks!


1. What kind of substrate is used in your tank and how deep is it?
Until a few days ago (after the problem child was removed) we used a 2-4 inch deep layer of coconut hull in a 10gal aquarium. Now we have about 7 inches of play sand and coconut hull in 5:1 mix as close as I can figure. I couldn't find anything to indicate if the mix was supposed to be by volume or weight and if the coconut hull was supposed to be wet or dry when making the mix, so I did my best.

2. Do you have gauges in the tank to measure temperature and humidity? If so, where are they located and what temperature and humidity do they usually read?
Guages are at the top back of the 29gal aquarium. Temp stays fairly steady around 72 F and humidity varies between 70-75%.

3. Is a heat source used in the tank? If so, what?
Just purchased a deep dome with a night black heat lamp and space for a daylight bulb but this was more for the hope of being able to see the crabs at night as the temp is generally pretty solid.

4. What types of water are available (fresh or salt) and how is the water treated (what brands of dechlorinator or salt mix and what ratio is used to mix it)?
Fresh RO water provided daily (our tap water is extremely heavy in iron and other questionables, so it gets run through the reverse osmosis before any of our family touches it - and that includes the fur/shellbabies!!) Fresh salt water provided daily. This was made using Zoo Med salt water conditioner until I discovered HCA. Now we are using 1/2c Instant Ocean sea salt in 1gal RO water. Fresh water is in a small plastic dish and salt water is in a plastic mini paint tray. Both were properly cleaned and decontaminated before use.

5. What kinds of food do you feed and how often is it replaced?
I know I'm likely going to burn in heck and get blackballed from this forum :anon: , but since we bought our first 4 crabs a year ago, we used the canned pellets and dried fruit. Now that we are learning the complexities of these little "easy to raise" creatures, we're switching to fresh fruit and veggies from the safe list, cuttlebone (our problem child, Jerry, has always been a bit defensive of HIS cuttlebone! :lol: ), freeze dried mealworms and blood worms, catappa leaves, freshly sourced cicada exos, boiled shrimp, and boiled eggshells.

6. How long have you had the crab and what species is it, if known?
The problem crab is from our first batch, purchased at the beach a year ago. I have no idea of the species but it's a bigger, rusty color crab that started off in a painted shell with <1" opening and grew to fit a natural shell with a 1.5" opening.

7. Has your crab molted, and how long ago did it happen?
About a month after we got our first batch, they all buried and would stay down for weeks on end, then come back up and motor around. They all showed signs of growing and thriving so we didn't worry once we established that the "climbing" crabs we bought were indeed burrowing creatures that could hide for "up to 6 months" if they were molting. (That was the info we got from the internet at the time.)

8. What type of housing are the crabs kept in, what size is it and what kind of lid is on the housing?
First year: 10 gal aquarium with screen lid and climbing branches from pet store. Daily mist with fresh RO water.
Now 29gal aquarium with screen lid, but there is a cold mist vaporizer right next to it to maintain the humidity in the tank + entire room. We still will most the upper glass if needed. Same branches are in there as before we isolated the problem crab, plus new coconut house, exercise wheel, and the larger salt swimming pool (mini paint tray). Jerry has never contacted the new items.

9. How many crabs are in the tank and about how large are they?
8 crabs: 4 are in the 1-1.5" shell opening range and 4 are new "babies" that are total shell size under 1inch

10. How many extra shells are usually kept in the tank, if any?
We were keeping 7 extra, larger shells until Jerry's streaking incident, but now have about 20 shells of different sizes and shapes available.

11. Have there been any fumes or chemicals near the crabitat recently?
No. All new materials have been sanitized by boiling for 20 mins. New tank was wiped with white vinegar then rubbing alcohol and allowed to completely dry and air exchange before any substrate or crabs were added.

12. How often do you clean the tank and how?
Substrate is cleaned as needed. If it feels wet, if it smells at all, if it has been in the tank for a month...

13. Are sponges used in the water dish? If so, how are they cleaned?
Only in fresh water dish. Washed by squeezing dirt out under clean fresh water, rinsing in salt water, then rinse in fresh water before placing in fresh water dish.

14. Has anything new been added to your crabitat recently?
Before the "streaking crab" incident, nothing new had been added.

15. Is there any other information you would like to share that might be helpful (anything that is regularly part of your crab care, playtime, bathing, etc.)?
The four original crabs have been routinely handled by our family and the problem crab would actively climb into my son's hand when he reached into the habitat. We are very fortunate to have had 4 very seemingly happy crabs for a year and now we have 7 seemingly happy crabs and one very limp, sad little guy.

16. Please describe the emergency situation in detail.
About 2 weeks ago, Jerry was found streaking (running naked around the tank) and one of the other 4 crabs we had at the time quickly stole his old shell. Jerry found a new shell and we thought all was well, but decided that we should probably get more large shells of a variety of shapes. Jerry stayed in the shell he found before the new ones were added and did not appear to want the new shells.

Based on the information we were learning, we realized the need to upgrade our crabitat, so we changed the tank size, started feeding fresh food options, and added the four "babies", but kept the coconut hull substrate. Jerry seemed to have no issue with the new tank, food, or friends. He continued behaving in the same friendly and outgoing way he always had for two weeks. Then four or five days ago, he and another large crab burrowed like they always have.

About three days ago, we assumed that they were just hiding out like normal, so when I dug them up to replace the substrate with sand, I was shocked that Jerry flopped out of his shell. I immediately thought he was dead and informed my sons. As I held him to say our goodbyes, he slowly twitched a couple of legs. We researched molting crabs and delightedly placed him back in the habitat in a little dugout spot under a water dish so we could easily check on him. I tried to isolate him on one end of the main enclosure but we were just not comfortable with his state, so we relocated him and his surrounding substrate to an isolation tank with a plastic dish placed over him to keep the humidity up and to allow us to check on him. I can see that some of his exo is gone from his legs and his body appears to be soft in spots near the tail end. But the rest of his front end exo appears fairly intact.

We haven't seen any further movement and I can't tell if his funky smell is death or molt. My son swears that they all smelled like cooked shrimp when we got them, so that smell might have been there all along. I don't make a habit of sniffing our pets if I can avoid it :lol: . I do need to put my nose fairly close to the isolation tank to smell the funky fishy smell. I believe it's getting slightly stronger than it was yesterday. Or maybe I'm just panicking. I hope I'm just panicking.

So did I kill my son's beloved crab or is there a chance it's still alive? I've read that the molt process can take weeks, but does that mean just the buried, not moving part of the molt Imageor is that for the whole process of premolt signs, molt, hardening, etc? How long should I wait before I accept the inevitable and have a tiny crab funeral?

I'm attempting to add photos of both the crab and the enclosure. Any feedback and input would be
greatly appreciated!!

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CrabbyLover77
Posts: 1579
Joined: Sun Aug 04, 2019 11:30 pm
Location: PA

Re: Is our little streaker molting, dead, or dying?

Post by CrabbyLover77 » Mon Sep 14, 2020 2:54 pm

Hi, I'll put my suggestions under your answers. Hope it helps!
MomOfTheAsylum wrote:Since you've come to the emergency forum, we know you want a fast answer to your question. In order for us to figure out the problem as quickly as possible, we ask that you answer the following questions as best you can. Some of them may seem odd, but they're all designed to give us the information we need to give you a good solution for your problem. The things in the [ brackets ] are there to make this post easier to read once submitted. Thanks!


1. What kind of substrate is used in your tank and how deep is it?
Until a few days ago (after the problem child was removed) we used a 2-4 inch deep layer of coconut hull in a 10gal aquarium. Now we have about 7 inches of play sand and coconut hull in 5:1 mix as close as I can figure. I couldn't find anything to indicate if the mix was supposed to be by volume or weight and if the coconut hull was supposed to be wet or dry when making the mix, so I did my best.

CL77- The 5:1 ratio is just a general suggestion. For example, if you are using a measuring cup that is 8oz, you would mix 5 of those cups of sand with 1 of those cups of Eco Earth (cocofiber). The mix should be moistened to sand castle constancy using dechlorinated fresh or salt water.

2. Do you have gauges in the tank to measure temperature and humidity? If so, where are they located and what temperature and humidity do they usually read?
Guages are at the top back of the 29gal aquarium. Temp stays fairly steady around 72 F and humidity varies between 70-75%.

CL77- For Purple Pinchers, temps should be 75-85°F. 70% is a bit low for humidity. Shoot for 80%+.

3. Is a heat source used in the tank? If so, what?
Just purchased a deep dome with a night black heat lamp and space for a daylight bulb but this was more for the hope of being able to see the crabs at night as the temp is generally pretty solid.

CL77- Heat lamps tend to zap humidity. For extra heat, a uth (under tank heater) is a better choice. Ultratherm is a good brand. You can mount it on the sides or back of the tank above the substrate line.

4. What types of water are available (fresh or salt) and how is the water treated (what brands of dechlorinator or salt mix and what ratio is used to mix it)?
Fresh RO water provided daily (our tap water is extremely heavy in iron and other questionables, so it gets run through the reverse osmosis before any of our family touches it - and that includes the fur/shellbabies!!) Fresh salt water provided daily. This was made using Zoo Med salt water conditioner until I discovered HCA. Now we are using 1/2c Instant Ocean sea salt in 1gal RO water. Fresh water is in a small plastic dish and salt water is in a plastic mini paint tray. Both were properly cleaned and decontaminated before use.

CL77- Are the dishes large enough for the crabs to fully submerge, but still have a way out?

5. What kinds of food do you feed and how often is it replaced?
I know I'm likely going to burn in heck and get blackballed from this forum :anon: , but since we bought our first 4 crabs a year ago, we used the canned pellets and dried fruit. Now that we are learning the complexities of these little "easy to raise" creatures, we're switching to fresh fruit and veggies from the safe list, cuttlebone (our problem child, Jerry, has always been a bit defensive of HIS cuttlebone! Image ), freeze dried mealworms and blood worms, catappa leaves, freshly sourced cicada exos, boiled shrimp, and boiled eggshells.

6. How long have you had the crab and what species is it, if known?
The problem crab is from our first batch, purchased at the beach a year ago. I have no idea of the species but it's a bigger, rusty color crab that started off in a painted shell with <1" opening and grew to fit a natural shell with a 1.5" opening.

7. Has your crab molted, and how long ago did it happen?
About a month after we got our first batch, they all buried and would stay down for weeks on end, then come back up and motor around. They all showed signs of growing and thriving so we didn't worry once we established that the "climbing" crabs we bought were indeed burrowing creatures that could hide for "up to 6 months" if they were molting. (That was the info we got from the internet at the time.)

8. What type of housing are the crabs kept in, what size is it and what kind of lid is on the housing?
First year: 10 gal aquarium with screen lid and climbing branches from pet store. Daily mist with fresh RO water.
Now 29gal aquarium with screen lid, but there is a cold mist vaporizer right next to it to maintain the humidity in the tank + entire room. We still will most the upper glass if needed. Same branches are in there as before we isolated the problem crab, plus new coconut house, exercise wheel, and the larger salt swimming pool (mini paint tray). Jerry has never contacted the new items.

CL77- You can wrap the entire mesh lid in saran wrap to keep the moisture in. The crabs will get air exchange when you do tank maintenance every day. Just don't put a heat lamp on top of the wrap.

9. How many crabs are in the tank and about how large are they?
8 crabs: 4 are in the 1-1.5" shell opening range and 4 are new "babies" that are total shell size under 1inch

CL77- 8 crabs in a 29 gal may be a little crowded. Here is the link on how many crabs can comfortably fit in your tank:

viewtopic.php?t=92541

10. How many extra shells are usually kept in the tank, if any?
We were keeping 7 extra, larger shells until Jerry's streaking incident, but now have about 20 shells of different sizes and shapes available.

CL77- The HCA recommends 3-5 shells per crab, so you would want at least 24 extra shells on hand.

11. Have there been any fumes or chemicals near the crabitat recently?
No. All new materials have been sanitized by boiling for 20 mins. New tank was wiped with white vinegar then rubbing alcohol and allowed to completely dry and air exchange before any substrate or crabs were added.

12. How often do you clean the tank and how?
Substrate is cleaned as needed. If it feels wet, if it smells at all, if it has been in the tank for a month...

CL77- No need to do a complete change of substrate unless there is a bacterial bloom or flood. Spot cleaning is fine.

13. Are sponges used in the water dish? If so, how are they cleaned?
Only in fresh water dish. Washed by squeezing dirt out under clean fresh water, rinsing in salt water, then rinse in fresh water before placing in fresh water dish.

CL77- Sponges harbor bacteria when wet, so you can remove it. It's ok to keep them in the tank dry for the crabbies to munch on though.

14. Has anything new been added to your crabitat recently?
Before the "streaking crab" incident, nothing new had been added.

15. Is there any other information you would like to share that might be helpful (anything that is regularly part of your crab care, playtime, bathing, etc.)?
The four original crabs have been routinely handled by our family and the problem crab would actively climb into my son's hand when he reached into the habitat. We are very fortunate to have had 4 very seemingly happy crabs for a year and now we have 7 seemingly happy crabs and one very limp, sad little guy.

16. Please describe the emergency situation in detail.
About 2 weeks ago, Jerry was found streaking (running naked around the tank) and one of the other 4 crabs we had at the time quickly stole his old shell. Jerry found a new shell and we thought all was well, but decided that we should probably get more large shells of a variety of shapes. Jerry stayed in the shell he found before the new ones were added and did not appear to want the new shells.

Based on the information we were learning, we realized the need to upgrade our crabitat, so we changed the tank size, started feeding fresh food options, and added the four "babies", but kept the coconut hull substrate. Jerry seemed to have no issue with the new tank, food, or friends. He continued behaving in the same friendly and outgoing way he always had for two weeks. Then four or five days ago, he and another large crab burrowed like they always have.

About three days ago, we assumed that they were just hiding out like normal, so when I dug them up to replace the substrate with sand, I was shocked that Jerry flopped out of his shell. I immediately thought he was dead and informed my sons. As I held him to say our goodbyes, he slowly twitched a couple of legs. We researched molting crabs and delightedly placed him back in the habitat in a little dugout spot under a water dish so we could easily check on him. I tried to isolate him on one end of the main enclosure but we were just not comfortable with his state, so we relocated him and his surrounding substrate to an isolation tank with a plastic dish placed over him to keep the humidity up and to allow us to check on him. I can see that some of his exo is gone from his legs and his body appears to be soft in spots near the tail end. But the rest of his front end exo appears fairly intact.

We haven't seen any further movement and I can't tell if his funky smell is death or molt. My son swears that they all smelled like cooked shrimp when we got them, so that smell might have been there all along. I don't make a habit of sniffing our pets if I can avoid it Image . I do need to put my nose fairly close to the isolation tank to smell the funky fishy smell. I believe it's getting slightly stronger than it was yesterday. Or maybe I'm just panicking. I hope I'm just panicking.

So did I kill my son's beloved crab or is there a chance it's still alive? I've read that the molt process can take weeks, but does that mean just the buried, not moving part of the molt Imageor is that for the whole process of premolt signs, molt, hardening, etc? How long should I wait before I accept the inevitable and have a tiny crab funeral?

I'm attempting to add photos of both the crab and the enclosure. Any feedback and input would be
greatly appreciated!!

CL77- You should never dig up a crab unless there is an emergency like a flood or bacterial bloom. The stress of it can potentially harm or kill them. You should also never re-bury a crab once it has been dug up. You cannot create the same tunnels with air pockets like the crab can. Here is the guide on what to do for a crab that is out of its shell:

viewtopic.php?t=122302

You indicated that there is a strong fishy odor coming from the crab. That usually means the crab has passed. If the crab hangs limp completely out of the shell and won't tuck back up inside, he is probably gone. I'm so sorry!


Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk





My Pets: 1 Pomeranian, 1 Russian tortoise, fishes/snails(40 gal freshwater aquarium), and 7 hermit crabs.
"Animals are my friends, and I don’t eat my friends".
-George Bernard Shaw


Topic author
MomOfTheAsylum
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Sep 14, 2020 7:17 am
Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Re: Is our little streaker molting, dead, or dying?

Post by MomOfTheAsylum » Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:54 pm

Thank you, CrabbyLover77, for your advice!
Some answers and clarifications......

CL77- The 5:1 ratio is just a general suggestion. For example, if you are using a measuring cup that is 8oz, you would mix 5 of those cups of sand with 1 of those cups of Eco Earth (cocofiber). The mix should be moistened to sand castle constancy using dechlorinated fresh or salt water.

Awesome. It appears that guessed right!


CL77- For Purple Pinchers, temps should be 75-85°F. 70% is a bit low for humidity. Shoot for 80%+.

I had read somewhere that the temp needed to be 70-80F and humidity 70-80%, hence feeling pretty good about where we have been sitting, but I can definitely boost these both to make the crabbies healthier.


CL77- Heat lamps tend to zap humidity. For extra heat, a uth (under tank heater) is a better choice. Ultratherm is a good brand. You can mount it on the sides or back of the tank above the substrate line.

I got the dome light to better light the tank and not so much for heat because the temp was staying pretty good without a dedicated heater. The dome light is only switched on for a max of 30 mins a night and the large cool mist vaporizer next to the tank seems to be helping keep the humidity fairly constant. Though there's always room for improvement!


CL77- Are the dishes large enough for the crabs to fully submerge, but still have a way out?

The fresh water is simply a shallow drinking bowl that the tiny crabs could probably submerge in well but the large crabs would be a bit uncomfortable trying to get completely under. The salt water bath is a mini paint tray, so the large crabs can get their entire body and the bulk of their shells under water. Both dishes provide ample means of escape for both small and large crabs.


CL77- You can wrap the entire mesh lid in saran wrap to keep the moisture in. The crabs will get air exchange when you do tank maintenance every day. Just don't put a heat lamp on top of the wrap.

Solid advice! No baked crab happening in our house!! :lol:


CL77- 8 crabs in a 29 gal may be a little crowded. Here is the link on how many crabs can comfortably fit in your tank:

viewtopic.php?t=92541

I've got some concern and confusion when it comes to the whole "max number crabs per gallon" idea. The numbers that I had found in my research said 2 crabs per 5 gallons, which would mean a 20 gal tank could house 8 crabs. But what size hermit crab are these numbers based on? If they're the giant ones, then I would absolutely agree that 8 would be far too many in that 29 gal tank, but looking at the enclosure and the small size of these social crabs, I find it difficult to believe that at this stage they could feel remotely crowded. Actually what we seem to find with our crew is that, despite having the entire enclosure to spread out, they all enjoy hanging out in a giant pile. So, no matter which part of the tank they're in at any given moment, they're usually in pairs or groups. None seem to be trying to distance themselves from the others.


CL77- The HCA recommends 3-5 shells per crab, so you would want at least 24 extra shells on hand.

I can add some more without a problem. It just seems like the spare shells take up the entire enclosure and leave no room for the actual live crabs. How do other folks deal with so many extra shells?

CL77- No need to do a complete change of substrate unless there is a bacterial bloom or flood. Spot cleaning is fine.

Spot cleaning is a much easier way to go!!

CL77- Sponges harbor bacteria when wet, so you can remove it. It's ok to keep them in the tank dry for the crabbies to munch on though.

That sounds like a much nicer idea, though I've read that sponges (when properly cleaned) placed in the water bowls help to keep the tank humidity up without the risk of overwetting the substrate.


CL77- You should never dig up a crab unless there is an emergency like a flood or bacterial bloom. The stress of it can potentially harm or kill them. You should also never re-bury a crab once it has been dug up. You cannot create the same tunnels with air pockets like the crab can. Here is the guide on what to do for a crab that is out of its shell:

viewtopic.php?t=122302

You indicated that there is a strong fishy odor coming from the crab. That usually means the crab has passed. If the crab hangs limp completely out of the shell and won't tuck back up inside, he is probably gone. I'm so sorry!


So, we're kind of learning as we go here.... We know now not to dig up a crab that is buried, but we didn't at the time. Also, if I waited until I didn't have a crab buried, I would never have been able to correct the substrate issue because it seems like somebody's always digging in. I figured that getting them into the proper substrate was pretty important, and we've never encountered a situation like this in the year that we've had the bigger crabs.

Once I realized that he was still alive, I didn't rebury him, perse. I dug a deepish depression in the substrate and laid him in it, then placed a solid cover over the hole to protect him but still allow for a safe molting cavity with a small "tunnel" for air. At that point, I didn't have much option. None of the resources I found really said anything about the exact method to use in placing a molter into an emergency isolation tank, other than to use a big spoon to scoop up the crab and substrate.

As for hanging limp from a shell, won't molters do this as well? I've never encountered this situation before with any of our crabs' molts, but all of the literature suggests that the appearance of a molting crab and a dead crab are pretty much the same and that during molt a crab loses the ability to pull back into the shell. So now I'm really confused! Add to that the reports of "molt smell" and I can't figure out at what point the limp, stinky pet becomes the limp, stinky mess. :roll:

I really do think he's dead, but I'm afraid to make that final call because he's already shocked us once.

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