Hermit crabs make quirky, cheap pets, but some fear they’ll be treated as ‘disposable’

Merv Cooper’s motto is “a house is not a home without a hermit crab.”

Surrounded by thousands of “singing” crabs inside his store in Rockingham, south of Perth, Cooper says people are lining up to get their hands on the quirky “low-maintenance” pet.

“They are a bit noisy, some of them squeak, mostly at night,” he said.

“[We’ve got] about 5,000 crabs in stock, changing hands in the next three to four weeks, and then we’ll get some more.”

Merv Cooper holds up a hermit crab for the camera.
Merv Cooper trademarked the term Crazy Crabs in WA over 40 years ago.(ABC Perth: Kate Leaver)

The former pearl diver has been collecting and exporting the popular Australian land hermit crabs for the pet industry for over 40 years and holds the only Western Australian license to export the crabs overseas to Hong Kong, the United States and Korea.

It also supplies up to 50 pet stores in Western Australia and some 20 pet stores in the eastern states.

Mr. Cooper, who holds one of only five crab harvesting licenses in WA, collects thousands of crabs in their shells from the wild on upstate beaches near Exmouth, where this species of hermit crab, Coenobita variabilis, it is endemic.

He trademarked the name Crazy Crabs nearly 40 years ago, popularizing the creatures as attractive and unusual low-maintenance pets.

Painted shells displayed in the store.
Customers come to Crazy Crabs for wacky mascots and a variety of crab-related products.(ABC Perth: Kate Leaver)

Cooper said the low price, about $5 for a small crab, made them an ideal first pet for children and families.

“They are not difficult to care for, they are educational,” he said.

Cooper said some crabs he had sold to families had survived up to five years.

“They nip from time to time to keep the kids on their toes, you could say, and you can have five or six in a small tank that we supply.”

Concerns about the ‘disposable’ nature of pets

But there is concern that because they are considered “quirky,” hermit crab pets are not taken seriously.

WA Museum crustacean curator Andrew Hosie said the mascot was sometimes considered expendable.

Andrew Hosie finds himself in a library stranded by bookshelves.
Andrew Hosie says that because they are considered cheap and uncomplicated pets, people may keep hermit crabs the wrong way.(Supplied: WA Museum)

“They are certainly peculiar [but] there is a perception that they are an easy species to keep as a pet,” Hosie said.

He said that people didn’t realize that in the wild the crab could expect to live quite a long life.

“They can live more than 10 years when kept well, but people don’t expect them to live that long either.

See also  Starving children 'forced to eat pets' after Russian soldiers 'stole their food'