Free hermie!
April 13, 2005 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Can I free my hermit crab?

My girlfriend gave me a hermit crab as a gift, with the intention that we would free it. We even named the crab Freedom. Further research, however, revealed that it's not so simple.. She imagined we would go to the beach and drop him off and wave him goodbye, but it appears that they don't like the beach at all.. They are land crabs after all.

So, the question now is: can this crab be freed? Will he survive? Where? Is this ethical?

I have no problem at all caring for him if needed, but that was not the original intention.

Anyone? Thanks!
posted by eas98 to Pets & Animals (20 answers total)
Land crabs? Where did you get the idea that hermits are land crabs? I see them in the ocean all the time. The little ones I see are in tide pools. I've seen bigger ones in underwater shows.

I would suspect that there are multiple species of crabs that live in discarded shells, but that's just a guess. Yet never have I seen anything but sea-dwelling hermits. And I live in a place where I'm 40 meters above the sea, and have land crabs in my garden. I have to fish them out of the pool when they fall in.
posted by Goofyy at 7:27 AM on April 13, 2005

I can't speak to hermit crabs specifically; these comments are general, and pertain to any exotic animal whose owner is contemplating releasing it.

Unless you know (1) that it's a wild-caught animal (I have no idea whether hermit crabs are farmed or bred in activity, but it's a theoretical possibility with every exotic pet) and (2) exactly what species it is and where it was collected, it's not ethical to release it.

Releasing it in an area from which it was not collected, but where hermit crabs live, essentially introduces different genes to an established population, messing with the local gene pool. This is compounded if the wild hermit crabs are of a different species and they somehow manage to hybridize.

Releasing it where no hermit crabs of that species live is introducing an exotic species. Better that the crab die than getting together with other releases and establishing a colony where no such crabs ought to be. (Pythons released in Florida.)

Releasing it where no hermit crabs can live, for climate or habitat reasons, is simply a death sentence. (Pythons released in Toronto.)

(Statistically, an individual animal in the wild doesn't have very good odds anyway.)

Captive animals have been known to spread pathogens to wild populations when released -- it happened to gopher tortoises in the southwest a while back.

Essentially, the damage was done when the animal was collected (if it was collected), and it's difficult to undo it. Freeing it might benefit the animal as an individual, but damage the habitat into which it's released. If the animal was captive-raised rather than collected, no damage was done, and releasing it is the worst thing that could happen to it.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:31 AM on April 13, 2005

Perhaps people at this marginally creepy website can help you.
posted by glenwood at 7:55 AM on April 13, 2005

This may help too.
posted by glenwood at 7:57 AM on April 13, 2005

While both your and your girlfriends hearts were in the right place please don't release your hermit crab in the wild. Animals in the pet trade are typically less healthy than wild animals, and could easily introduce pathogens into wild populations.

In the future, instead of releasing pets into the wild, how about donating money or time to an animal rescue or rehab group?
posted by a22lamia at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2005

I remember hearing about an animal rights activist that bought a 10 lb lobster from a supermarket and released it back into the ocean. Problem was she forgot to remove the rubber bands from the claws...
posted by C17H19NO3 at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2005 Releasing Pets is Never a Good Option.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2005

This sounds like the plot of a really bad wannabe Disney made-for-TV movie.

Will you be providing the voice of the hermit crab?
posted by xmutex at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2005

I had two pet hermit crabs a couple summers ago (names: Ahab and Ishmael) and one day my mom let them out onto our deck so they could exercise. Ishmael was never seen again.

Though it's a noble idea, it doesn't seem like a very smart one. The crab would probably die pretty quickly, either of natural causes or by getting eaten or something.
posted by elisabeth r at 8:39 AM on April 13, 2005

Why exactly are you wanting to do this? I'm curious.
posted by agregoli at 8:42 AM on April 13, 2005

I swear I originally read this question as "Can I eat my hermit crab?"
posted by bshort at 8:49 AM on April 13, 2005

Thanks for the answers so far! All of the websites linked to are great.

Why exactly are you wanting to do this? I'm curious.

Why? Because I felt that, unlike dogs and cats, crabs are not domesticated, and should not be kept as pets. I see them all at the mall, and I feel bad for them. I did not ask for the gift, but it was given with good intentions. Now I just want to do the right thing. I'll care for it if that's the right thing.
posted by eas98 at 8:50 AM on April 13, 2005

Please, please, please do no release any animal from captivity into the wild. The potential outcomes of such an action are either a swift death for little Freedom in an alien environment*, or an addition to a invasive species that will be a detriment to the local ecosystem (see: Red Slider turtles in New England). Neither are very happy outcomes, either for Freedom or in furthering your goal of protesting animal captivity.

I entirely agree with you that some animals should not be housed by humans, but campaiging to restrict the exotic pet trade through your local government, or such organizations as the Animal Protection Institute, will be a far more positive alternative than causing Freedom to suffer or damaging the wild animals already in your neighborhood.

More positively, this little crab is now in your care, and you can give him as good a life as he can have in capitivity if you do your research, sites like Vanessa's Crabarium are excellent, deticated sources of information on how to provide for these little guys. Hermit crabs are NOT throw-away pets, they do take some work, but at least you can have the satisfaction that this one crab will live a decent life, such as it can, and not be tortured by some five year old in a bucket.

You are doing a great thing by asking, and wanting to do right by this one crab. Good luck!

bshort, that very topic has actually been discussed on AskMe, if you're curious (the short answer is "no").

*I realize you live in Flordia, so the chances are high that you might indeed have a local species and individual. The fact remains that during its time in capivity, it has been less healthy than it could be in the wild and the chance it has communicable diseases of some kind is considerable.
posted by nelleish at 9:27 AM on April 13, 2005

Any marsh areas would be suffice, particularly at low tide.
posted by itchie at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2005

Most likely, if it doesn't get eaten, it would starve.
posted by mischief at 10:14 AM on April 13, 2005

Lizards and many other animals aren't "domesticated" either, but they are also bad candidates for release into the wild. It's nice that you wanted to free something, but it's probably just sentencing it to death at best and damaging local ecology at worst.
posted by agregoli at 11:24 AM on April 13, 2005

Buying animals with the intent to free them encourages the people who sell the animals to sell more animals. Supply and demand. Or, perhaps, demand and supply.

No snark on you, eas98, I know you didn't buy the animal yourself, just a general comment.

In downtown L. A. there are tons of street vendors who sell little turtles in tiny plastic terrariums for $2 or $3 each. I always have to restrain myself from buying every turtle I see. I hate seeing the turtles in those little boxes, stacked 4 or 5 high and sitting in full sun with no water, but I know if I were to buy them up, all those vendors would have twice as many turtles tomorrow.
posted by vignettist at 12:22 PM on April 13, 2005

Thank you all for the replies. I shall keep Freedom and make him as happy as possible.
posted by eas98 at 1:34 PM on April 13, 2005

So can you eat them?
posted by goethean at 2:25 PM on April 13, 2005

I wonder if she did.
posted by Ruki at 8:25 PM on April 13, 2005

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