Walk along the shops at a beach town this time of year, and you’re sure to come across a sign saying, “Free Hermit Crabs! (with purchase of kit).” Hermit crabs are popular items in beach town souvenir shops, in part because these prolific creatures conjure up images of the seashore, and people see them as a great way to take a little bit of their vacation back home. Unfortunately, a lot of times these hermit crabs don’t survive the stresses of the trip back home, leading these creatures to garner a reputation of being a sort of throwaway animal or a novelty.
The fact is, that reputation couldn’t be further from the truth. There isn’t a lot of research published on hermit crabs, but a crab’s life expectancies when in its natural habitat or when cared for properly can range between 15 to 50 years. They also make good pets, especially as a starter pet for young children or for people who are allergic to other animals, due to the fact they’re relatively easy to care for and don’t suffer from many diseases. Some hermit crab owners even report that their pets learn to recognize the sound of their owner’s voice or even come when called by name.
Hermit crabs and various supplies have been on the market for decades, but just in the past few years, more offerings have come to the category, giving the opportunity for increased growth and sales. The hermit crab category is one that remains relatively steady, but new products and a wider variety of options not only helps attract new hermit crab owners, but also satisfies the needs of long-time hobbyists looking for good quality supplies.
The Hermit Habitat
When it comes to hermit crabs, getting the right habitat set up is a top priority. It is common to see hermit crabs sold with small, plastic habitats, when in fact these creatures need to have some space to crawl around and explore. A 10-gallon aquarium at minimum is recommended, and Zoo Med has a brand-new Glow-in-the-Dark hermit crab kit that fits these specifications. The kit includes a glow-in-the-dark climbing branch, sand scooper, two shells, food and water dish and dual thermometer/humidity gauge. In addition to the glow-in-the-dark items, the kit also includes soil, mineral blocks, Midnight Black Hermit Crab Sand, food, water and salt conditioner and a book about care and maintenance.
“Starter kits allow customers to go home with everything they need to provide care for a new pet, and our products are designed to help people be as successful as possible,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator, Zoo Med Lab. “We know the more successful consumers are with their pets, the more likely they are to continue keeping those animals, or get more.”
Even though 10-gallon tanks are recommended, many smaller hermit crab habitats remain on the market. In an eff ort to encourage customers to purchase the bigger habitats, Florida Marine Research has introduced some new, bigger accessories, including a beach chair, a hammock and a bridge.
“I’m a big proponent of the theory, the bigger the home, the happier the animal,” said Paul Manger, owner of Florida Marine Research. “We are concentrating our eff orts on encouraging the pet owner to expand the habitat itself, so we created these items designed for bigger tanks with that goal in mind.”
In addition to spacious living quarters, hermit crabs also need the proper substrate to burrow. Some hermit crab owners prefer to mix their own substrate by combining soil and sand, but Fluker Farms introduced proprietary substrate that replicates what hermit crabs would have access to in their natural environment. Fluker’s Hermit Headquarters Beach Sand Substrate is a mix of silica sand and cocoa peat, with salt added as well as a probiotic to serve as an odor reducer.
Liven Things Up
Like many other types of animals, hermit crabs respond well to treats. It not only provides a little variety to their diet, but also gives a way for the pet owner to interact with the hermit crab. The FMR Hermit Crab Treat is a fruit-based food developed internally by testing it on the company’s own hermit crabs.
“We carry about 300,000 crabs to distribute to retailers, which provides a good way for us to monitor the animals and see what they like,” Manger said. For the Hermit Crab Treat, the company introduced new fruits and monitored what they ate. The product is in a new package that includes a clip for re-sealing to maintain freshness.
Fluker’s Hermit Headquarters line includes a treat that has interaction included in its name. The Instant Fruit Treat with Interactive Feeding Kit is a powder that pet owners can mix with water and feed to the hermit crabs. It comes in blueberry, strawberry and banana flavors.
The hermit crab shells are another area where customers can find some excitement to add to the habitat. Painted or natural, shells come in all sizes, shapes and varieties. Florida Marine Research has introduced a 3D design to appeal to the younger demographic. Retailers should encourage customers to buy a few shells of different sizes, because when the hermit crab molts, he may be somewhat picky about which new shell he wants to move into.
Grow the Category
Hermit crabs fall into their own niche when it comes to marketing—not a reptile, not a fish, but their own species. For this reason it might be challenging to figure out where to devote the space to these creatures and their line of products. Luckily, the manufacturers realize this and have made things easier by creating end caps, special signage and other sales vehicles. Fluker Farms, which created an entire line of hermit crab products under its Hermit Headquarters line, has a sales rack that includes all of the products in one convenient place.
“When we decided to start creating products for hermit crabs, we wanted to do a whole line to outfit the hermit crab set up the way it’s supposed to be,” said Sam Furby, vice president of sales and marketing at Fluker Farms. “This rack is a nice way to display our whole line, showing hobbyists that our products are comprehensive and meet their needs.”
Florida Marine Research has a spinner rack which holds its products to help introduce them easily to customers. The company is also introducing an end cap this month at SuperZoo.
“We had one in the ’90s that was popular,” Manger said. “People asked for it back so we’re creating one to meet the demand.”
It’s also important for stores to have the hermit crabs themselves.
“Many people will purchase one on vacation, but they do well in colonies, so we recommend getting a few more once they’ve been brought home,” said Stacy Davis, purchasing director at That Fish Place/That Pet Place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “We believe hermit crabs do better with a few friends.”
At That Fish Place, the hermit crabs are kept in large habitats with plenty of space for climbing, with plexi glass sides to help hold in the humidity.
“Our display of crabs, simply because of its size, is a real eye catcher for our customers,” Davis said.
Whether your store is in a coastal town or in the middle of the country, hermit crabs make a good addition to your offerings—for new pet owners or longtime hobbyists.
Taking advantage of the growing interest in nano tanks, the Evo 12 from Fluval brings the nano world to saltwater fishkeeping. At 13½ gallons, the small size is easily manageable for people starting out with saltwater. It is also appealing for long-time hobbyists who might want an additional aquarium for a specialized type of set up.
“There’s a misconception that it’s expensive to get into saltwater fishkeeping, and we’re defying that with this kit,” said Chris LeRose, aquatics division manager at Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. “Our kit retails at $199 or less, which makes it good for the customer who wants to get into saltwater but doesn’t want to go huge.” The Evo 12 kit includes LED lighting and a filter with a pump. “We’ve also come out with a mini-protein skimmer for the smaller size aquarium,” LeRose said.
The PS2 Mini Protein Skimmer is designed for aquariums of five to 20 gallons and has a modular design for easy access and cleaning. Coralife LED BioCubes also offer an all-in-one option. The line was recently improved by adding two inches to the two available sizes, bringing them up to 16 and 32 gallons. This kit includes an LED light with a 24-hour timer, a filter and a submersible pump.
“We have found that products that allow marine aquarists to successfully and conveniently manage their aquariums are popular, which is what helped lead us to develop the BioCube kit,” said Andy Hudson, R&D product designer for Central Garden & Pet.