What To Do With a Bully?

Where we discuss the behavior of our hermit crabs, as in fights, pecking orders, shell swaps, etc. Please post all naked-crab posts in the Emergency forum.
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What To Do With a Bully?

Post by FeelingCrabby » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:44 pm

Hi all,

A few weeks ago Hammy, my medium-ish crab was picking on Henry, another crab roughly the same size. When I say "picking" Hammy was really close to him, really far out of his shell while Henry was curled up really far inside his. I thought it was just a little territorial "this is my spot" fight so I sat them in different spots in the tank (they were in a corner) and forgot about it. Then the next day they were in the same corner, but Hammy was on top of Henry. I separated them and misted Hammy (not enough to actually do anything! I needed to mist the tank anyway so I just misted the part he was in to freak him out) and kind of hid Henry inside a hut. Then the day after that, in the exact same corner, Hammy was on top of Henry and was attacking him! I had to place two plastic spoons between them to make him let go.

I thought it was a shell fight because they both had the same size and type of shell, even though they were both painted (they hadn't changed since I brought them home from the pet store) so I placed a divider in the tank and gave him plenty of shell choices. After about a week Hammy hadn't changed, or even bothered looking at the shells. (He kept tunneling underneath them and making them fall into holes, though, but I don't know if that's important.) Because of that I believed it wasn't a shell fight after all, so I decided after I changed the substrate I would add him back in with the other crabs.

Well, I placed them all in a cardboard box and observed them while my brother was taking out the decorations. Hammy started pacing in circles around the box, Spider-Man (the littlest) hid inside the empty water bowl, and Henry just kinda sat there. I went to the other side of the room for about 20 seconds and heard awful squeaking coming from the box -- Hammy was attacking Henry even worse than before!!! I took Hammy out and placed him in a plastic cup. He kept trying to attack me through the plastic, something NONE of my crabs had ever tried before. As soon as Hammy was out the others in the box became more active, so I'm guessing they were all scared of him?

I couldn't give him his own tank because of reasons so I placed a divider in the tank and isolated him. We also ended up finding a molter, so we had to isolate the molter as well. So now I have a 29 gal tank with 4 crabs and two dividers, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

I'm going to eventually add the molter back in with the others, but what do I do with the bully??? I clearly can't add him back unless I want my other crabs hurt or worse. I know hermies are social, so is it abuse to just leave him isolated? Is there a way to train him out of bullying? I know some crab owners go by "letting nature take its course" but I just don't have the heart to do that when I can do something about it. I had an incident before where my largest crab would sit on top of the others, but I now realize he wasn't bullying at all, or at least not as bad as this.

I also had an incident when one of my other crabs died from surface molting/stress. I was pretty sure he was dead but placed a cup over him anyway because he didn't smell, but I guess I didn't place it far down enough because I found (guess who) Hammy tearing him to shreds a few days later. Now that I think of it, it was only a little while before the bullying began. Is this a form of crabbie cannibalism?

What am I supposed to do??? I am very, VERY confused. Has something like this ever happened before? I'd prefer to leave him isolated, but again, would that be abuse?

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Re: What To Do With a Bully?

Post by Giner13 » Sun Jun 25, 2017 7:02 am

I would suggest leaving the bully in ISO with plenty of shell and food choices & access to both fresh and salt water.
I've not had experience with bullying that aggressive. But the one time I have had some was over shells.

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Re: What To Do With a Bully?

Post by emberfusion » Sun Jun 25, 2017 7:12 am

I would isolate him and make sure to feed him lots and lots of proteins to start with. I've never had any aggression this extreme in any of my tanks so I'm not sure what to suggest beyond that. Just make sure to keep him isolated for a while and feed him lots of nutrient rich foods and I'm sure someone with more experience with aggression will come and chime in soon!

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Re: What To Do With a Bully?

Post by wodesorel » Sun Jun 25, 2017 10:30 am

Keep him separate until he molts and then try again. Often their brains seem to reset along with their bodies. He may calm down.
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Re: What To Do With a Bully?

Post by GotButterflies » Sun Jun 25, 2017 10:42 am

Good luck!

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Re: What To Do With a Bully?

Post by C_fiesta » Sun Jun 25, 2017 1:41 pm

I have a couple questions.
What are you feeding them?
Why did you change the substrate?
How long have you had the crabs?
How is your tank set up?

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Re: What To Do With a Bully?

Post by Teddscau » Wed Jun 28, 2017 1:57 pm

I've only had my hermit crabs for three-ish days, so I don't have much experience when it comes to hermit crabs. However, I've read that most bullying can be solved by bathing the victim (in salt water) so (s)he has a "neutral" smell. Apparently, it stops the bullying most of the time.

From my experience with birds, if this doesn't stop the bullying, I would put the bully in a completely different tank. I'd keep him in the separate tank for at least 2 weeks before reintroducing him. I often have to deal with Ziggy, my male budgie who becomes violent when he's hormonal. Separating him from the others for a couple of weeks gives him a complete attitude change, and he's a lot nicer. Obviously, in order to solve the bullying, you have to get to the root of the cause. With birds, it's usually because they're "nesty". With birds, you make sure they get 12–14 hours of complete darkness (increased day length makes them want to reproduce), and remove any potential nesting sites.

By removing Hammy, your other crabs can reestablish their social hierarchy. Once Hammy returns, he'll be an "outsider", putting him at a disadvantage. Also, a few days after removing Hammy, I'd recommend rearranging the decor and whatnot in Henry and Spider-Man's enclosure. This way, Hammy will be unfamiliar with the enclosure when he returns. If Hammy's being territorial, the unfamiliar layout will hopefully discourage resource-guarding or whatever.

I understand what you're going through. It's hard deciding whether or not to separate a highly social animal from their social group. Oh, and since you mention cannibalism (which isn't uncommon with hermits), he could also be behaving aggressively due to a diet lacking in certain nutrients (especially protein). I'd buy some of that healing/moulting food from Hermie's Kitchen or wherever. If this is predatory behaviour, the healing/moulting food will help supply Hammy with the nutrients he feels he can only get from eating other hermit crabs. This is very common in crickets who don't receive adequate nutrition (especially protein). Normally, crickets are highly social and gentle with each other, but if they don't get enough protein or whatever, they'll turn on each other.

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