When you think of hermit crabs, you probably picture a cute little crab sporting a colorful shell, crawling around in a terrarium. It’s likely safe to say that you have never wondered to yourself, can you eat a hermit crab? Well, the answer is, yes. But you might not want to. There is a specific type of hermit crab that is regularly eaten in a certain part of the world. Read on for everything you need to know about hermit crabs and whether or not you really want to eat them.
What is a Hermit Crab?
Hermit crabs, whose scientific name is Paguroidea, are an invertebrate that can be divided into two main categories, land dwellers and marine dwellers (with one species called Clibanarius fonticola, living in freshwater). There are over 800 known hermit crab species in the world. Dating back to the cretaceous period, these crabs are omnivores that scavenge for food and typically eat microscopic clams and mussels, algae and pieces of dead animals.
Different from what you typically think of as a crab, they only have exoskeleton on the front of their bodies. Their soft tail is a strong muscle that they use to burrow inside shells and protect themselves. They are called hermit crabs because they live inside found shells alone, however, in the wild hermit crabs prefer to live in large groups.
Why You Shouldn’t Have a Hermit Crab as a Pet
Hermit crabs are wild sea life and do not do well as pets. They are very commonly considered ‘throwaway’ pets because they live for very short periods of time in captivity; often only a few months. In the wild, some hermit crabs can live up to 30 years. You shouldn’t have a hermit crab as a pet for several other reasons:
- Hermit crabs are social creatures and prefer to live in groups. In their natural habitat they often forage together and sleep together.
- Hermit crabs will rarely breed in captivity.
- Fancily painted shells that are given to hermit crabs can be poisoned by toxic paints.
- Hermit crabs need to be able to burrow in sand in order to molt. If they don’t molt then they can’t grow.
- Because of the hermit crab being sold widely as a pet, there are thousands of shells taken from their natural habitats every year. This creates a shortage of shells left for wild hermit crabs to use and they are often stuck in shells that are too small.
- Even a hermit crab that is a land dweller by nature has gills that need to be kept moist by an environment with high humidity. When in captivity, they often are not offered these conditions and will suffocate slowly and die.
How Are Hermit Crabs Different From Other Crabs?
Hermit crabs are not the same as what is typically known as a crab.
- They have no exoskeleton on their tails and need to find empty shells of other sea animals to live in for protection.
- These crabs are related more closely to a specific kind of lobster than they are to other crabs.
- Hermit crabs compete with each other for vacant shells. They will often fight with or kill another crab to gain access to a shell of their liking if there is a shortage of shells in their area. Not being able to retreat into a shell that is too small can prove deadly for a hermit crab. They need to fit completely inside their shell to stay safe from predators.
- They are relatively smaller than other types of crab
Can You Eat A Hermit Crab?
Hermit crabs can actually be eaten, but are not a common choice on menus. You probably haven’t been to a restaurant with hermit crab on the menu, and there are several reasons for that.
Why Aren’t Hermit Crabs A Popular Choice For Food?
- Their size; hermit crabs are generally smaller than other crabs so they don’t have a lot of meat. You would need several to make a meal and so they are often seen as not being worth eating. You would need a hermit crab that is at least 4 inches wide in order to get a decent amount of meat.
- Most hermit crabs are scavengers, eating algae, decaying wood, dead animals, and even have been known to eat fecal matter. This diet does not support what you would consider a good tasting animal.
What Type Of Hermit Crab Is The Best To Eat?
There is one species of hermit crab that lives in the Pacific Islands that is often eaten there. The coconut crab is a larger species of terrestrial (land-dwelling) hermit crab. They can grow to be nearly 9 pounds and up to three feet long from leg to leg.
As young crabs, they seek shelter in shells, but actually develop exoskeletons as adults and stop carrying shells at that time.
While still considered a scavenger that will eat dead animals, the coconut crab got its name because they climb coconut trees and can pick and feed on coconuts. They prefer to eat nuts, seeds, and fruits.
Because of this, they are described as having a taste similar to that of traditionally eaten crabs and lobster, often with a hint of coconut. Their meat is sweet and oilier in texture than other crab meat.
How Do You Cook A Hermit Crab?
To cook a hermit crab is not any different than how you would cook traditional crab. They cannot be eaten raw, so should be cooked before you consume them to get rid of any potential bacteria or toxins. Never eat a dead hermit crab. They should be live when you cook them.
Before cooking, you should thoroughly wash the crab and its shell under warm water to remove any debris and dirt.
You can boil the crabs in seasoned water for around five minutes, or until they float to the surface. After cooking, use a cracking tool meant for seafood to crack the shell in order to get all the meat.
Read more: Can You Eat a Jellyfish?