How to Paint Hermit Crab Shells


A splash of color brightens up any living space, but when it comes to your pet hermit crab's home, it's best to leave his shell in its natural state. Painted shells carry potential risks to hermit crabs, including the possibility the crab ingests paint chips. If you want to spruce up your crab, consider using a natural dye to color his shell or buying an exotic shell for him.

Paint Dangers

There is controversy in the hermit crab community about the risks painted shells introduce to hermit crabs. Consider your crab's habitat: It's likely a sandy or coarse substrate that he regularly digs and burrows in as he goes about his business. The substrate's grit rubs against his painted shell, breaking off tiny chips of paint or glaze into the substrate, which your crab eventually eats. If the paint or coating isn't nontoxic, the crab risks becoming poisoned. Another problem with a painted shell is the possibility that the paint interferes with the gases that are passed through his naturally porous shell, affecting the delicate humidity and salinity level a crab needs to maintain in his shell to help him breathe.


  • Painted shells often don't keep their shiny, pretty appearance long; the paint wears and chips off, making the shell look worn and tired.

Dye Job

You can gussy up your crab's shell in a safe, natural way that won't interfere with his hydration level or pose any toxic danger. Fruit, vegetable or berry juice are nontoxic alternatives to paint.

Things You'll Need

  • Intensely colored fruits or vegetables, such as beets, blueberries or raspberries
  • A muddler, mortar and pestle or something similar to mash the fruit or vegetable
  • A bowl for mashing the fruit or vegetable
  • Light-colored shells that are clean, empty and unpolished
  • Paper towels
  • Small scrub brush or tooth brush

Step 1

Stuff paper towels inside the empty shells to keep the interior clean and juice-free.

Step 2

If necessary, cut your fruit or vegetable into small pieces so it's easy to mash.

Step 3

Thoroughly mash your fruit or vegetable to generate a maximum amount of liquid to use as dye.

Step 4

Place the shells in the mashed juice and coat thoroughly. Allow them to sit for several hours for the juice to soak into the shells.

Step 5

Rinse the shells, lightly scrubbing them to remove any seeds that may have stuck to the shells.

Step 6

Place on paper towels to dry.

Other Alternatives

Mother Nature provides some beautiful housing options for hermit crabs. You can find a nice variety of striking shells online. Crabs can be choosy about their homes because they need a shell that will fit them just right. Some shells available online with striking natural finishes include:

Many shell providers polish the shells to provide a glossy finish inside and out, maintaining the shell's porous property for the crab's safety and a smooth interior for his comfort. Some shells are even etched with designs. Choosing a naturally colorful shell also means your crab has a home as unique as he is.


  • Blown glass shells are also available. Though they don't present a hazard from chipping paint though they may interfere with gas exchange since glass is nonporous.

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