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Mollusks and Crustaceans


Apple Snails  |   Hermit Crabs  |   Vampire Crabs  |   Red Cherry Shrimp  |   Triops


Apple Snail photo by Sunnie LaPan I love having apple snails. They are just so cool looking and so much fun to watch, and they’re really chilled out and easy to keep. These guys are large, freshwater snail from the family Ampullariidae. Apple snails are amphibious (but spend most of their lives entirely under water) and well adapted to many living environments, but especially enjoy tropical and sub-tropical climates. There are several different types of apple snails, which can be found all over the world, including the southern USA, Africa, South and Central America, the West Indies, and Asia. The most common type of apple snail found as an aquarium pet is Pomacea bridgesii. Pomacea canaliculata is also popular. (I have Pomacea canaliculata. I find they are slightly hardier than other apple or mystery snails, and they also grow to a more impressive size.)
Because apple snails are commonly sold under the catch-all term ‘mystery snail’ it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not you actually have an apple snail. One of the best ways to tell is whether or not your snail has a siphon, a tube-like organ it occasionally uses to breathe air. All apple snails have this organ. Another way to tell is by shell structure- apple snail shells are rounded, with the whorls somewhat far apart. Apple snails also have two tentacles just outside their mouths, and most species lay their eggs above the waterline.
Apple snail species include some of the largest snails on Earth, and can reach close to six inches in diameter, although most pet store varieties will only reach a diameter of two to three inches.
Apple snails are usually colored in a range of browns, ivories, and golds (aka the Golden apple snail) but are also sometimes available in more unlikely hues, such as blues, purples, and greens. Apple snail shells can be banded or not. Exact appearance depends on the species.

Apple Snail photo by Sunnie LaPan Because of their striking, appealing appearance and amazing size, apple snails make a great addition to many tanks, or even in an aquarium by themselves. (I like to house mine alone. I keep about two snails in a ten gallon tank. They will appreciate more space if you have the room.) They are fascinating to watch and, I think they feel a lot more like pets than most other aquarium snails.
Apple snails, comparatively, are a rather simple aquarium species to care for. Apple snails will eat algae, but they don’t eat a lot of it, and cannot subsist on it alone. If you’re looking for cleaner type snails, these are probably not for you, as they make more of a mess than they clean up. They will, however, eat a variety of foods, including fish food or pellets, brine shrimp, and vegetation. Most apple snail enthusiasts choose to feed their snails a mix of cucumber slices, and, the easier, more popular choice of romaine lettuce. Mine tended to be very picky and only ever ate romaine. And they would almost never eat the white ribs, which makes sense, since that’s basically water in lettuce form. Because of their penchant for veggies, apple snails will often devour ornamental live aquarium plants, so unless you feel like replacing these plants often, it’s important to keep your snails in a tank with artificial plants only.
Apple snails are most active at night, and do most of their eating then. Also, apple snails are amphibious and will crawl out of their tanks if they feel there’s food out there to get, so it’s important to always keep your tank covered. I’ve had some snails that loved to go for a jaunt outside the aquarium, and others that were never tempted, but I figure it’s best to cover your bases.

Apple Snail photo by Sunnie LaPan Apple snails thrive best in a water temperature between 64 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmer temperatures make the snails more active but will shorten their lifespan. At cooler temperatures, apple snails are less active, but can live two to three years, sometimes more. Five to six years seemed to be the golden number for my snails. However, at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or below, apple snails will die within days. I keep my snails at about 74 degrees, which, in Arizona means that I need neither an aquarium cooler or heater. The snails are quite active but seem to live long lives at this temperature, which is awesome.
Although large, apple snails are pretty much defenseless against aggressive fish, so it’s a good idea to keep them with friendly, non-aggressive fish breeds only. It’s also a good idea to provide a simple filter system (I like hang–on back filters) and aerator for the aquarium with your snails in it.
Apple snails are both voracious and adaptable. For these reasons, apple snails often, literally, make pests of themselves in non-native wild habitats. They can wreak havoc on an ecosystem. For this reason, never, under any circumstances, release your apple snails into the wild. Also, because of this problem, apple snails are illegal in some states, and are not supposed to cross state borders. Check with your state’s laws before deciding that these are the right snails for you. If they are illegal in your area, mystery snails, which can be found in almost every pet store, are probably the best bet, usually coming very close to being apple snails. If they’re not, you know, actually apple snails after all.   -SEL


How many asshat clerks at the pet store assure you when you ask ‘Is this critter easy to care for?’ that you couldn’t kill it if you tried? So you buy it, and bring it home, and fall in love with it. And you have it for a few weeks, or maybe a few months, when all of a sudden, it dies, and you are left wondering what you did wrong.

This is what happened to me with my hermit crabs. When I was a kid, I saw them, loved them, saved up my money, and bought them. I had them for a span of about two years, from when I was 12 to 14. Then, when the fourth crab died, I gave it up. During that time, we did everything to make them comfortable and happy and, you know, alive. There was a lot of conflicting information out there, and none of it was really helpful. (In fact, the only article that was helpful had a section titled ‘How Do I Know If My Hermit Crab is Dead?’)

I figured I just wasn’t cut out for crab-keeping. Then, seven or eight years later, I started writing pet articles. I was surprised to discover that, while hermit crabs are still considered relatively simple to keep (and they are), there are several key things that they just don’t tell you about at the generic pet store, and these things are the difference between a live crab and a dead one.

Misapplied Names
Hermit crabs are probably known as hermits since they live all alone in one shell, switching it out as it grows larger. The fact is, though, that hermit crabs are actually very social. In the wild, they live in large groups, and they tend to always like to be near each other. So, if you’re getting one hermit crab, for the health of the crab, you should probably spring for two or three instead. Hermit crabs stress pretty easily, so keeping them in good company means keeping them healthy. Nyx, the hermit crab - photo by Sunnie LaPan

Four medium sized crabs can be comfortably housed in a 10-gallon aquarium/terrarium, but that’s tight. Crabs can grow to be pretty large, some about the size of a baseball. Larger crabs will need a larger habitat. Whatever you choose, remember that hermit crabs like to roam around, so make sure there is enough room for bowls, decorations, and free space so that a crab can move about and perhaps get away from his crab friends for a little while if he needs to.

The next key in hermit crab housing is substrate. I always use a sand substrate, and this still seems to be generally accepted. You can also use other reptile substrates, such as coconut fiber, or you can mix two substrates together. You want the substrate to be able to retain some moisture and be of a consistency that your crab can dig. It also needs to be deep enough that a crab can bury itself completely- probably two or three inches for an average sized crab, but judge using your crab’s size. I have big crabs. My substrate is four or five inches deep.

Over the habitat, you’re going to want to have some kind of lid, not only to keep the curious out, but to keep the crabs in. I myself prefer screen top terrarium lids for everything, whether it’s crabs, fish or salamanders. They’re sturdy, easy to use, cats can sit on them, and they’re very inexpensive. However, a glass or plastic lid is also a good choice, in order to retain humidity.

Decorations in the hermit crab environment are important not just for looks, but because hermit crabs are curious creatures. They love to climb in and over things, or hide out. A few branches of driftwood, or something like that, as well as a hiding place, like a hollow log are great decorations. Also leave a few differently shaped and sized shells in case your crab wants to change his outfit. Changing the position of the decorations from time to time will also help to keep your crab from getting bored. I also like to prop my driftwood against the side of the terrarium (just make sure it’s sturdy and secure) so it’s up high, because hermit crabs love to climb.

Humidity and Temperature
The hermit crabs you’ll find for sale are generally tropical creatures. Therefore, it’s best to keep your hermit crab’s habitat at a temperature between 75 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. In Arizona, this is simple. If you live in a colder climate, an undertank heater will help maintain the temperature. In the winter months, I do use a sticky heating pad that attaches to the back of the terrarium.

One of the things I was never told when keeping crabs the first time is that they require a very humid environment. Dry environments can easily cause suffocation. This is because hermit crabs have gills that can dry up in an environment that lacks humidity. Keeping the substrate moist (but not too moist- you don’t want mold), misting the tank with clean water, and putting the water bowl over or near the warmest part of the terrarium can boost humidity. In order to keep track of the humidity, a hygrometer, which is usually less expensive than it sounds, is the best way to go. For hermit crabs, humidity should be between 70 and 80%.

Food and Water
When I got my first hermit crab, I was told that I only needed to soak a sponge and drop it into a dry bowl, as opposed to having any kind of standing water. This is such a terrible idea. Crabs need enough water that they can get it into their shells. This is, however, not so much water that it will completely cover the crab. The water should be clean and non-chlorinated (you can use a dechlorinator or simply let the water sit in a wide-mouthed container for 24 hours. The chlorine will evaporate.) The water should be presented in a dish that is not metal, as hermit crabs react poorly to metal. It should be easy for the crab to get in and out, as well. If you feel the water may be too deep, you can put pebbles or a sea sponge in the dish.

As for feeding, crabs are not picky. You don’t actually need to buy any special pet store hermit crab food if you don’t want to. The only thing I would recommend is some ground cuttlebone, for calcium. Otherwise, hermit crabs will eat a wide variety of clean, organic ‘human’ food, such as raw fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, rice, cereals and nuts. I had one crab who loved peanut butter. Just make sure your crabs are getting a varied diet that includes vitamins and calcium.

Castor, the hermit crab - photo by Sunnie LaPan Personally, I never like letting my crabs climb around on my hands. They often pinch, and I’m always afraid I’ll would drop them. However, there’s nothing wrong with picking up your crab. It’s easy to pick them up gently by the shell and move them from place to place. Letting your crab wander about on the carpet, with supervision, is perfectly acceptable, although I… don’t.

If you do want to handle your crab, that’s fine. Just remember that they do pinch sometimes and it does hurt a lot more than you’d think. I’ve heard that running the crab under luke warm water will release the pinch, but once you get pinched it puts you into a kind of panic mode and most people start flailing their hand around, which dislodges the crab but can also result in crabby death. Honestly, I just don’t see why you’d do this. Kids want to, maybe? I wouldn’t subject a kid to a crab pinch. As far as I’m considered, hermits crabs are much more of a look–don’t–touch pet than you’d think.

Never pick up a crab by the front, and never attempt to pull a crab from its shell. You will tear it in half. Crabs are much, much more likely to attempt tp hold onto their shells and split themselves in half than let you pull them out. Sit on a soft area, like a couch, when you’re holding the crab, so that if it does decide to make an escape and you can’t catch it, it will land on something soft.

Why Did My Hermit Crab Bury Itself?
Everything is going well in your little crabby world, until one morning you notice that one (or more) of your hermit crabs are missing. Panic! You look around and realize that the substrate’s all clumped up in a corner, or under a log, and you realize that your hermit crab has buried itself. Why would it do such a thing?

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that a hermit crab that’s buried itself is sick, or dying, or maybe even dead. Nine times out of ten, this is false. Hermit crabs bury themselves for a number of very natural reasons. When you bring new crabs home, they may be stressed from all the moving about, and might bury themselves. Hermit crabs bury themselves when they’re not pleased with or are adjusting to different temperatures and humidity. Some hermit crabs bury themselves just because they like to bury themselves. I have one who goes down every few weeks just to chill for a few days. Then she comes back up.

Hermit crabs can stay buried for a really long time. Some hermit crabs bury themselves for weeks or months. Generally, hermit crabs come up at night to eat and get some water. It can be hard to tell whether your crab is doing this, especially if you have other crabs and can’t differentiate between the marks they make on the sand. The best advice is to be observant, and check frequently to see if your crab has come up. Don’t uncover him, though! Leave him alone and let him do his thing.

The only time you want to uncover a crab is if you’re pretty sure it’s dead. If you smell a weird odor or if your crab hasn’t come up for weeks and you don’t think it’s molting, gently uncover the top of the crab. If it smells like rotting fish, the crab is dead. If it doesn’t smell, cover the crab back up. Unless you smell that smell, don’t assume your crab is dead. Crabs can look amazingly dead, even falling out of their shells, when they’re still alive.

If your crab has been buried for a long period of time and it’s not coming up, it may also be…

Every year and a half or so, hermit crabs molt. Molting is when the crab sheds its old exoskeleton and grows a bigger one. During this time, crabs need darkness and peace and quiet to safely molt. They will molt, eat their exoskeleton, wait for their new exoskeleton to harden, and then come back up.

Generally, you’ll have some idea that your crab is about to molt. They’ll start eating a lot and may start digging more than normal. If your crab is missing a limb, a soft limb bud will appear. If you think your crab is getting ready to molt, you have some options. You can move it to a safe molting container, usually another large terrarium, with deep sand and food and water. The crab can then safely molt away from other crabs that may injure it. Sometimes, crabs that aren’t molting want to eat the exoskeleton of the molting crab, get giddy, and eat the molting crab, too.

You can also leave your crab in the community habitat. This is convenient for people who don’t have a spare terrarium lying around. Sometimes crabs surprise you, too. My crabs always surprise me. &lparWhat a weird sentence to write.:rpar; I’ve never had a problem with them attacking each other, though. However, if your crab molts in a habitat with other crabs, you can block him off from the other crabs with a clean liter soda bottle with the end cut off. (Leave the cap off.) Gently screw the open bottom of the bottle into the sand around the crab. Now other crabs can’t dig or climb to the molting crab. Leave food and water for the molting crab inside the bottle.

You can un-barricade or return your molting crab to the community tank when the crab has eaten as much of the exoskeleton as it seems interested in, and its new exoskeleton is hard. The entire molting process can take a really long time, especially for larger crabs. If your crab is underground for upwards of three months, don’t be alarmed. This is normal, and the last thing you want to do is disturb a molting crab. Just wait and let nature take its course.

I Almost Never See My Crabs
Hermit crabs are super cool. I love mine. However… Sometimes they don’t… do anything. Sometimes they’re all chilling under the substrate and I feel like I never see them. And even when they’re above ground, they’re nocturnal, so they’re pretty inactive during the day. Sometimes I feel like I’m feeding and water a terrarium of rocks. So, if you’re looking for an active pet that will provide you with hours and hours of entertainment… Unless you’re a night owl, these may not be the pets for you.

Hermit crabs talk! The first time I heard this, it freaked me out. It sounded like some old smoker laughing. But it was one of my crabs, chatting it up. They talk for a variety of reasons, but I find it’s usually to tell each other off. I’ve heard them talking during daylight hours, but I find they’re most vocal at night. Which leads me to suggest you don’t keep hermit crabs in your bedroom. Not only do they really get into having conversations at night, but they move stuff around, they clink their shells against the glass… they are just really, really loud. Cool. But loud.   -SEL


vampire crab is usually more vibrantly colored than this drawing by Ann LaPan

Vampire crabs are a small, colorful crab species that has recently become popular with terrarium and aquarium enthusiasts. Not too much is known about these crabs, as they are relatively new to the pet trade. However, owners of these crabs rave about them because they are gorgeous to look at, easy to care for, and breed readily in captivity.

Appearance and Behavior
Vampire crabs are brightly colored. They can be found in the red variety, which has a reddish-black body and bright red front claws, or the purple variety, which is, surprise surprise, bright purple in color. The crabs supposedly get their name from their bright yellow or red eyes. These fellows stay pretty little, only growing to less than an inch wide across their bodies. Their long legs make them appear a little bigger.

Vampire crabs are usually very peaceful, although they may feel the urge to duke it out over a prime hiding place. They tend to enjoy hanging out together. A group of several can be kept together, but it’s usually better to keep more females than males in order to avoid fights.

These crabs love to eat at dusk and dawn and are the most active at these times and during the night.

Terrarium Setup
A group of six or so adult vampire crabs can live happily in a ten gallon terrarium. Vampire crabs need a setup with a bit of land and a bit of water. A terrarium with 2/3 land and 1/3 water is ideal, but these crabs are flexible. To achieve these parameters, some people build huge, complex landscapes using waterfalls and stacked rocks. They look awesome (usually) but can be a pain to build, often don’t work correctly, are usually expensive and, for vampire crabs, are largely unnecessary.

The easiest way to give your crabs the water/land space they need to is to fill an aquarium with sand or a similar reptile substrate. The substrate should be kept moist and should be about three or four inches deep, to allow for burrowing. Then, a large, shallow container, such as a bowl or dish, especially a large reptile dish, can be tucked into the substrate, mimicking a perfect water area. The water should be deep enough for the crabs to submerge themselves, but should have large rocks or branches that make it easy for the crabs to climb out.

For vampire crabs, some people claim that freshwater is the only way, while others say brackish is necessary. This is hotly debated, and I haven’t heard of anyone coming up with an answer 100% either way. So, why not offer both? Use two bowls and mix one with aquarium salt (table salt does not work!), following the directions for brackish water, and leave the other filled with fresh, dechlorinated water.

Vampire crabs also enjoy climbing, so you’ll want to include some driftwood, cholla wood, cork or rocks. You can stack these items to create realistic levels, as well. Just make sure that if you stack stuff it’s secure and isn’t going to fall and crush any of your little buddies. Plants, either silk or live, can also provide some nice hiding places for the crabs.

Vampire crabs enjoy a warm, moist environment. Anywhere from 72 to 82 degrees F is acceptable, with the higher range being a more ideal situation. These crabs require a humidity level in the 70 to 80% range. This is essential for their breathing as well as their molting. Crabs die in low humidity. Luckily, humidity is easy to accomplish. Keeping a water area and moist substrate will do most of the work for you. You can also periodically spray the tank. I also like to keep a piece of plastic wrap over half of my tank, secured under a mesh lid, to lock in moisture but also allow for fresh air.

Vampire crabs are technically omnivorous. They’ll eat dried fish or frog pellets, dried crab food, or freeze dried fish, frog or crab foods. Just stay away from stuff with copper in the ingredients, as this is usually toxic to crustaceans. You can also offer live foods such as small crickets but it’s not necessary. Vampire crabs should also be given veggies, such as lettuce or peas, from time to time. Most of these crabs prefer meaty foods but some like to eat vegetables and it’s good to offer, just in case.

Vampire crabs don’t like to move too far away from their hiding places, so if you have a large habitat it might be a good idea to offer food in a variety of locations.

The gender of a vampire crab can be determined the same way as almost any other crab. Look at the underside of the crab. from the bottom of the crab running up the underside is what’s called an apron. It’s just a section that runs up, crossing the other sections of the crab’s shell that run from side to side. On males, the apron is narrow. On females it’s very wide and much rounder.

Vampire crabs breed in their freshwater areas. The crabs then go through their entire larval stage while in the egg (which the females carry around). When the crabs hatch, they are just miniature versions of the adults. You can get quite a few crabs in one breeding, so be sure you know what to do with them. Or, just keep females.   -SEL


If you’re looking for interesting, beautiful and unique aquarium inhabitants that are super easy to care for, you can&##8217;t do too much better than red cherry shrimp. These shrimp are tiny, growing to only about an inch long, but are pink to bright red in color and can be kept under almost any conditions.

Tank Setup
Because they’re so small, and because they have a very low waste output, you can keep about 10 red cherry shrimp in one gallon of water. They’re very peaceful, so they won’t be shoving each other around. You can also keep them with other peaceful invertebrates or small, non-aggressive fish. Just remember that any fish with a mouth that can hold a shrimp, will eat a shrimp.
Red cherry shrimp love to have something to grab onto as they move around their home, and slick surfaces stress them out, so a bare aquarium is never a good idea. You can add a substrate of sand, small pebbles or those little betta bowl glass rocks, or gravel. You should also include some plants, not just for climbing on, but to offer hiding places and make the shrimp feel more secure. Red cherry shrimp get along with live plants really well, but artificial ones will work as well.
You can add a gentle filter to your aquarium, since shrimp aren’t bothered by water flow or vibrations. Just remember that if you have small shrimp, they can possibly get sucked up into the filter intake. You can solve this by tying a piece of cheese cloth, nylon, or a sponge around the intake, so that water and debris can get in, but no shrimp can. I use a folded piece of cheese cloth secured with a zip-tie. When I need to replace the dirty cloth, I just slide the zip-tie off, put on a new piece of cloth, and push the same zip-tie back into place.

Water Parameters
Red cherry shrimp can live in almost any water parameters and be totally happy. They prefer a pH level between 6.0 and 8.0, and a temperature between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, although something between 75 and 78 is better. They can do hard or soft water. The most important thing to remember, though, is that the water parameters should remain stable. Only introduce shrimp to a fully cycled tank with no ammonia, nitrites, and a level of nitrate below 20 ppm. Make sure the temperature and pH do not fluctuate wildly.

These little shrimp aren’t picky about what they eat. You can feed a wide variety of fish and invertebrate pellets and flakes, as well as algae wafers, or even boiled zucchini, spinach and lettuce. Feed once a day, giving only as much as the shrimp can eat in a couple of hours. Overfeeding can cause health problems and can also muck the water up.
Remember that invertebrates like red cherry shrimp cannot tolerate copper. Many fish foods have copper in them, so check ingredients. Also, if you plan to fertilize plants or medicate fish, these items also sometimes contain copper.

Red cherry shrimp breed like nuts, so if you have more than one together in a tank, be prepared for babies. You really don’t need to do much for the babies, just ensure that they are not getting eaten by larger fish or sucked into the filter.
If you don’t want any babies, you can separate the genders. Female red cherry shrimp are usually larger than the males. They are also often darker in color, and they have a curved under-chest, whereas the male’s chest region is flatter. In addition, females usually display a ‘saddle’ on their backs. The saddle is just as it sounds- a saddle shaped mark just after the head of the shrimp. It’s where the ovaries are. Saddles are usually yellow but can also be a funky green color.   -SEL -SEL


Triops are small, prehistoric-looking crustaceans. They’re popular as kids’ pets, since they’re easy to care for, and can be a lot more fun to watch than a bunch of seamonkeys, although they are pretty similar. Like seamonkeys (which are really brine shrimp) Triops, also known as dinosaur shrimp, come as dried eggs. Plop them in a gallon of fresh water, and the eggs hatch. The triops grow, and live out a lifespan of about two months. Unlike seamonkeys, these little guys grow to between two and three inches, depending on the species, so you can actually see your pets.

Triops drawing by Kyle LaPan Triops are shaped somewhat like a horseshoe crab, and have a brown or golden color. In the wild, they’re found in areas where ponds or large puddles form for part of the year. This dictates the lifespan of the Triop. The best part about these little creatures, though, is that, during this short lifespan, Triops will breed. The eggs can then be dried out and stored, for up to ten years, until you decide you want to have some more Triops. Truly, this is an amazing feature. You can’t just dry out your goldfish when you get tired of cleaning the tank, but Triops actually kind of work this way. Have them for one or two months, depending on lifespan. Dry out the eggs, then bring the eggs back in a year or two when you want to have them for two months again. Or, have them continually, allowing each new batch to breed.

Triops can be kept in almost any container, as long as it’s about a gallon in size, and has a wide surface area, to allow for oxygenation. Fish bowls, plastic or glass, look nice, but plastic food containers or plain old buckets will work, too. Just make sure the container has never held any soap or chemicals. You can use a blank bottom, or add some substrate, such as sand or fine gravel, which will help when you want to retrieve the Triop eggs.

Keep the Triops in a water temperature between 72 and 86 degrees. You can use an aeration system if you want, but it’s not really necessary. Similarly, a filtration system can be used, but be careful that the intake is not large enough to suck up any of the Triops. Partial water changes may work better.

Triops will eat a lot of different foods. Usually, Triop packages come with a food supply. However, baby triops can be fed things like dried yeast, while adults can be fed fish flakes.

When all the Triops have lived out their lifespans, scoop up all of the stuff at the bottom of the tank. Allow it to dry out completely, leaving it for about two weeks. Then, rehydrate it as you did the first batch. Normally, Triops breed without much encouragement, so chances are you’ll have several eggs which will become your new pets.    -SEL

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