Is my Hermit Crab molting or dying?

For someone new to keeping hermit crabs this can be a confusing time. Some of the symptoms of molting can also be symptoms of impending death. It can be hard to tell the difference especially if you have just purchased your crab.

First of all there are symptoms of molting. We affectionately call them PMS, pre molt symptoms.

  • Digging
    Photo Courtesy of and Property of Jen Stedner
  • Consuming large amounts of water or soaking in the dish
  • Cloudy Eyes
  • Ashy looking exo
  • Lethargy (very in active)
  • Spilling water to dampen the substrate



Heres the first place this gets confusing. When you bring home a crab from the store it may have been kept in poor conditions. It may be dehydrated, stressed out and hungry.

In which case it may do the following:

  • Dig down in the substrate to destress
  • Consume large amounts of water (or food) or soak in the dish
  • Be very lethargic

Here is the second place this gets confusing. When a crab dies, most often its limp body will droop out of the shell. After a day or two the crab will smell terribly like a rotting fish. In some cases there is no smell, but most of the time its unmistakable. When a crab molts, it pushes off its exoskeleton which comes out of the shell and looks exactly like a limp, lifeless crab.

If your crab is in this position, hanging out of its shell and limp, do the following:

  • Set up a Isolation tank and gently move the crab into it
  • Leave the crab completely in peace other than to change the water and food

If the crab begins to smell you will know its passed on. If not, then there is a good chance it is molting and the exoskeleton will be eaten over the next several days.

There really is nothing you can do to stop your hermit crab from dying. The most important thing to remember at this point is: DO NOT HANDLE YOUR CRAB!

Dont poke it, pick it up, blow on it or otherwise disturb it. If its dying, you are just causing it unnecessary stress. If its molting, you are causing it more stress, which could in turn kill it.

So, in conclusion, if you are asking yourself: Is my crab dying or molting? You should put the crab into isolation and wait and see. Thats it.

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