A living jewel
Coenobita perlatus (the "strawberry hermit crab") is one of the most exotic-looking species of and hermit crab to arrive in the U.S. Identifying them is a breeze, because their entire body is the color of a ripe strawberry and their eyes look like polished hematite beads.
Coenobita perlatus is native to the Pacific islands as well. I recall seeing a picture of a strawberry crab in a crude hermit crab care book that was published in the late 1970s. At that point in time strawberry crabs were not being shipped to the U.S. Most people crabbers had heard of them, but never dreamed of them becoming available as pets in the U.S. In the late 1990's, strawberry crabs became a threatened species in Australia, where it is still illegal to harvest them for the pet trade. From what I understand, the strawberry crabs that are being sold as pets in the U.S. come from Malaysia and Indonesia, where they are not yet a threatened species.
C. perlatus' most distinctive feature is its bright red color. The crab is predisposed towards a reddish/orangish color, but the intensity of the color depends upon the crab's diet. Strawberry crabs that are fed adequate amounts of carotene-containing food will retain their bright red color after they molt. If the crabs do not get enough carotene, they will molt out a lighter color. See the pictures below for a very good look at how the amount of carotene affects the crabs' coloring. Some people will recall that the flamingo is another animal that derives its bright coloring from its diet.
Strawberry crab. Color derived from eating enough carotene.
Strawberry crab. Washed-out coloring due to carotene deficiency.
To make sure your strawberry crabs stay nice and red, be sure to feed them plenty of the foods they need. See the Special Needs section below.
C. rugosus and C. cavipes can and do molt into red colors sometimes rivaling the intensity of the strawberry's coloring. If you have a crab that you think is a strawberry, but you are not sure, look at the crab's eyes. The eyes of a strawberry crab usually look like they are made of polished hematite. Because of this, their eyes may appear cloudy to a new strawberry crab owner, who might think the crab is preparing to molt. Be sure to always check for other molting signs! Also, strawberry crabs have small white bumps covering their bodies. Since they do not produce hair-like filaments, they are not exactly setae pores. They look more like small white goosebumps.
Special Needs. Strawberry crabs are extremely delicate crustaceans. They need a crabitat with plenty of humidity and a constant temperature. They need a large saltwater pool and a whole lot of room to roam. Even experienced hermit crab lovers on the cutting edge of crab care have reported a lot of trouble with caring for strawberry crabs. These beauties are NOT RECOMMENDED FOR BEGINNERSStrawberry crabs need to eat foods rich in carotene to maintain their brilliant red coloring. The best foods for keeping them bright and healthy are sun-dried baby shrimp, dried plankton, and color-enhancing fish food. Make sure they always have access to one of these foods. Strawberry crabs also need and love salt water! Especially right after you bring them home from the pet store. They will drink it for hours.
Molting. C. perlatus molts well in both moist sand and Forest Bedding, so the general molting method described on the Molting page works well for them. Strawberry crabs' molting habits are similar to those of the purple pincher or Ecuadorian crabs. They will dig under and molt and then come back up when they are ready.
Temperament. For all their beauty, strawberry crabs have gotten a bit of a reputation as "tank trashers." A group of active and determined strawberry crabs can totally destroy a well-ordered crabitat overnight! They will come out and visit with you if they choose to do so, which they usually do. The strawberry crab's temperament is friendly enough but it is not a "runs in all directions at once" sort of crab like the Ecuadorian. Strawberry crabs enjoy shell-shopping, so get them nice polished shells that show off their pretty red coloring. In the year that I have owned them, I have never heard any of my strawberry crabs chirp. So if you are looking for a hermit crab with a lot of personality, I suggest you begin with an Ecuadorian or a Ruggie. Strawberry hermit crabs are more often puchased for their looks rather than temperament, though I have met some very sweet strawberries.
Compatibility. I have been keeping my C. perlatuses in a crabitat along with my Ecuadorians and other exotic species. They get along well with all the species and their coloring does not make them a target for harassment. Keep an eye on the crabitat initially after introducing ANY new species, to make sure there is no trouble.
Further Research:If you would like to view more pictures and information about identifying this species of hermit crab, please check out the Links page. Some of the websites featured there have more information on exotic land hermit crabs.
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