Vampire Crab: Care, Diet, Tank Mates & More

Little Purple Vampire Crab, Geosesarma dennerle, isolated on black background
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: April 13, 2024
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Are you looking for a unique marine creature to add to your aquarium? Then, the vampire crab might be the perfect addition! Its striking name and color palette, despite it being a newer member of the industry, have contributed greatly to its fame. Continue to read for tips on how to care and keep this compelling species.

Article Summary

  • Vampire crab is considered semi-terrestrial, requiring both land and water portions in their habitat.
  • Vampire crabs exhibit a feisty and aggressive temperament, yet they can coexist when kept in groups, with the recommended composition being one male and two females for optimal harmony.
  • They are omnivores and scavengers that eat insects and decaying plant matter.

Species Overview

Common NamesVampire Crab
Scientific NameGeosesarma dennerle
SpeciesG. dennerle
Size2 in
Lifespan2 yrs
FamilySesarmidae
GenusGeosesarma
DistributionEastern Indian ocean, Western Pacific 
ColorPurple, blue
DietOmnivore
TemperamentAggressive
Minimum tank size10 gal
Place in the tankBottom
Care LevelEasy
BreedingDifficult

History and Background

First described in 2015, Geosesarma dennerle had actually been a part of the aquarium trade long before they were described. In fact, they were so widely popular that scientists struggled to trace their origins making them impossible to officially describe.

However, after many years of hard research, the island of Java was deemed the homebase of this fantastic species. Keep reading to learn more about what makes this species so popular with aquarists from around the globe.

What is a vampire crab?

Vampire crabs (Geosesarma dennerle) are often sought after because of their dark purple coloration and contrasting yellow eyes. They also have a preference to live in a habitat with high land to water ratio (more on that later) making them well-suited to paludariums. They are a fairly small crustacean that unlike most crabs aren’t able to open their claws wide, limiting the amount they can pinch.

Why are they called Vampire Crabs?

Vampire crabs are called such because of their bright yellow eyes which can be very spooky when peeking up from a pile of leaf litter at the bottom of your tank.

Where did the vampire crab come from?

These crabs originally came from small islands in Southeast Asia, more specifically Java Indonesia. They live in a tropical environment and are considered semi terrestrial crabs. Vampire crabs live in freshwater rivers despite most people thinking they are brackish species due to living close to the Indian ocean.

FUN FACT

A semi-terrestrial species is one that requires both a water portion and land portion in their habitat because they occupy both. Other species that are semi terrestrial include frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians.

Appearance

A crab with yellow eyes and purple claws
(1) Vampire Crab Up-Close

The vampire crabs (Geosesarma dennerle) is one of the main sources of attraction for aquarium hobbyists.

What do vampire crabs look like?

A majority of their popularity comes from their interesting appearance. Vampire crabs have a body with deep purple coloring, white spots, lighter colored claws, and yellow eyes. Claw color can vary depending on species but they most often have pink or bright orange claws.

Like most other crabs this species has ten legs including their two pinchers.

How big does a vampire crab get?

They are small crabs and will grow up to 2 inches wide.

How fast do vampire crabs grow?

This species will reach sexual maturity in roughly six months. This is a considerably lengthy amount of time when their total lifespan is 2 years.

Vampire crab colors

Red devil crabs are the main variation of vampire crabs and hail from the same freshwater rivers in Indonesia. The carapace of this crab is dark brown or gray while the claws are bright orange or red. Like vampire crabs their eyes are yellow.

Temperament and Tankmates

Vampire Crab Hiding Below A Plant Leaf
(2) Vampire Crab Hiding Below A Plant Leaf

These crabs definitely have a feisty personality and can hold their own against any vampire crab tank mates.

Can vampire crabs live together?

Yes, in fact other vampire crabs make the best tank mates and interspecies fighting is not common when they are placed in groups. It is best to have groups separated into one male and two females to prevent any territorialism and aggressive behavior between the males during mating season.

FUN FACT

If you’re having trouble identifying males from female crabs, flip them over and look at their abdomen. Male crabs will have a thin, pointed shape whereas females will have a wide abdominal flap.

Can vampire crabs and shrimp live together?

Other tank mates can include cherry shrimp or snails. Though these smaller invertebrates might be eaten they tend to be mostly compatible.

What fish can live with vampire crabs?

Small fish are able to live with vampire crabs, however this is difficult because fish have to be small enough to not eat your vampire crab, but large enough to not be eaten. Many dither fish do well with this tiny crab as they are peaceful and tend to stay out of its way.

Compatible tank mates

  1. Rosy red minnow – a small, peaceful species the rosy red minnow is an excellent beginner fish and is often used as a dither fish in cichlid tanks to encourage shy fish to come out from their hiding spots.
  2. Neon tetras-generally considered a nano fish, this species is excellent because it will thrive in the small amount of water that vampire crabs need.
  3. Zebra danios – another small fish that will thrive in a tropical environment and gets along with most every species.
  4. Cherry barbs – This non-aggressive fish reaches a maximum size of 2 inches making it a good option for pairing with your vampire crab.
  5. Guppies – Small and peaceful, guppies can be paired with vampire crabs. However, since this crustacean is semi-aggressive, you’ll still want to keep an eye on them to make sure they’re getting along.

Tank Mates to Avoid

  1. Red devil crab – you should avoid mixing any crab species with vampire crabs as they are extremely territorial. However, the red devil crab is an especially bad idea as these two species are both very aggressive.
  2. Goldfish – besides the fact that the amount of water in your crab habitat will likely not be enough for a goldfish, they will also try to eat your crab. This will likely end poorly for both parties as if your goldfish does manage to catch a crab its hard shell will not digest easily, but more than likely your crab will end up injuring the goldfish’s fins with its pincers.
  3. Cichlids – though a small, tropical species most cichlids will exhibit some aggression so it is not recommended to match them with an already territorial species.
  4. Betta Fish – Highly aggressive and territorial, betta fish should not be paired with vampire crabs.
  5. Angelfish – Although not common, angelfish have been known to eat small crustaceans like the vampire crab. Don’t pair these two together to avoid your crab becoming a snack for this omnivorous species.

Tank Requirements

Woman Placing Empty Aquarium On The Table
Woman Placing Empty Aquarium On The Table

Care requirements for this species is fairly simple and does not take much work on the part of the aquarist.

Water Parameters

Tank Size> 10 gallons
Water TypeFreshwater
Water Temperature74-82
Water pH7.5-8.0
Water Hardness0-10dKH

Tank setup:

Tank setup is vital for the wellbeing of this species as they need specific land/water ratios to replicate their natural habitat.

What kind of substrate should I use

Use a fine sand earth mixture in your tank as this species enjoys burrowing occasionally and this mixture will allow you success when adding plant matter.

Because this species is semi terrestrial meaning they’ll spend some of their time on land it is extremely important to pay attention to the type of substrate vampire crabs require. Consider using a paludarium to provide both land and aquatic elements.

Do I need a Filter?

Yes, for the water portion of your freshwater tanks or paludariums you should definitely add a filter. In general the geosesarma species are messy eaters meaning there will likely be a lot of decaying matter fouling your water quality.

Is a Pump necessary?

A pump is not necessary for this species and your filter flow should provide more than enough circulation for the amount of water in your tank. However, adding one to your tank won’t have a negative effect upon your crab.

Should I add a Water heater?

Yes, vampire crabs are a tropical species and crab keepers should expect adding a water heater to their tank to keep temperatures as close as possible to their natural habitat.

RECOMMENDATION

In addition to a heater you should consider purchasing a humidifier and keep humidity levels around 75%.

How much Lighting do I need?

Vampire crabs do not have special lighting requirements and you should cater to the needs of the live plants in your tank. However, it is important to note that most of their activity occurs at night so whatever lighting you use should have a 12-16 hours dark period.

Can I add plants to my tank?

Yes! We strongly recommend the addition of live plants to your paludarium as the vampire crab’s natural environment has dense vegetation. Not only does this dense vegetation provide hiding places for your crabs, but it also gives them a food source. While vampire crabs won’t eat healthy plants, they will snack on plant detritus helping keep your tank clean.

RECOMMENDATION

Other decorations in your tank should include driftwood, PVC pipes, or terracotta pots. These will provide hiding spots as well as give your crabs a wide variety of environments to explore.

Land to Water Ratio

Vampire crabs spend at least half of their time on land, however it is recommended providing them a tank that is 80% land and 20% water. If you are opting to keep this species in a more traditional aquarium instead of a paludarium be sure to place a perch that is easily accessible.

TIP

A paludarium is a habitat that includes both land and water elements. It is a unique habitat that can replicate marsh, intertidal zones, or creek beds and host a myriad of creatures.

Diet and Health

Bloodworms in Plastic Container
Bloodworms in Plastic Container

While crabs are scavengers in the wild and will eat almost anything it is important to feed your crabs a high quality balanced diet to ensure they are in the best possible health. Brine shrimp, daphnia, and microworms provide a great source of protein for these tiny creatures.

What do vampire crab eat

This species are not picky eaters and while they’re termed as omnivores, they should be scavengers as they’ll eat any food scrap they can get. As part of their diet vampire crabs eat insects, and decaying plant matter.

What to feed vampire crabs?

To create a healthy diet within captivity choose a variety of live foods (brine shrimp, insect larvae, earthworms), frozen foods (dead crickets, blood worms), and commercial foods. High quality pellets, flakes, and algae wafers are wonderful supplements to this species diet and can be easily found in most pet stores.

TIP

If feeding human food be sure to check the ingredients for Ethoxyquin, a pesticide that can be toxic. Additionally, you should avoid foods with citrus, garlic, and onion.

How often do you feed vampire crabs?

Adult vampire crabs should be fed once every two days, young crabs should be fed once a day. Depending on aggression levels among other vampire crabs and their tank mates you may want to increase the feedings of adult crabs to once a day.

How much to feed vampire crabs?

Vampire crabs are more likely to eat little than to eat too much and overfeeding is not a common issue. You can use the three minute rule to help you initially gauge how much you crab eats, but you will eventually become attuned to their eating habits and use judgment and experience instead.

Common diseases of vampire crabs?

Vampire crabs have no species specific diseases and aren’t prone to diseases that affect freshwater fish such as ich. However, like other species of crabs they can be affected by bacterial infections and parasites. Treatment includes the administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics, water changes, and better tank conditions in the future.

How long do vampire crabs live?

The life expectancy for vampire crabs is roughly two years. This is the same for in the wild and captivity and generally depends on vampire crab care level and proper conditions.

Breeding

Little Purple Vampire Crab, Geosesarma dennerle, isolated on black background
Purple Vampire Crab Isolated on Black Background

It is difficult to induce breeding in this species, however they will more than likely breed on their own without your interference.

Can you breed a vampire crab?

Vampire crabs are fairly new to the aquarium trade so there isn’t much literature about inducing breeding vampire crabs.

How to breed a vampire crab?

Most vampire crabs will breed when they’re ready. A breeding vampire crab will climb on top of a female vampire crab to fertilize 20 to 100 eggs. Female vampire crabs will carry the eggs for about a month before they hatch and there are baby crabs everywhere. Baby crabs are self-sufficient and don’t need their mothers.

However, we recommend removing the baby crabs from the same tank or else be prepared for the mothers to engage in cannibalistic behavior. That’s right, they will eat their own species. This bloodthirsty behavior is another reason why they are called vampire crabs.

Vampire crab FAQS

Read on to learn about the most commonly asked questions regarding vampire crabs.

Are Vampire Crabs good pets?

Yes, vampire crabs are an excellent beginner species as vampire crab care isn’t difficult and mostly includes keeping their tank clean.

Are Vampire Crabs aggressive?

Yes, this creature is quite aggressive and you’ll often notice them waving their pinchers and scuttling angrily at anything they deem is too close.

Can vampire crabs live with other crabs?

No, it is not recommended you house multiple crab species. You can house vampire crabs together and create a same species tank as long as you keep a two females per male ratio. Housing more than one crab species could lead to aggression between the two, especially if they are both male.

Can vampire crabs live out of water?

This crustacean is considered to be semi terrestrial which means it lives both in and out of water. That’s why it’s important to have both land and water elements in your tank as well as provide hiding places that can be accessed from both areas of the tank.

Do Vampire Crabs need a heat lamp?

No, having a water heater and humidifier is a more effective way to maintain proper temperature parameters for your crab.

Will vampire crabs eat my plants?

The Geosesarma dennerle is one of the best crabs for a planted tank because they won’t bother live plants, but they will snack on dead and decaying plant matter. Additionally, they aren’t big burrowers so they won’t disturb your plants root system.

Can vampire crabs regrow limbs?

Yes, crabs are able to regenerate limbs through a process called molting which occurs seasonally. Each time the creature molts it has the opportunity to regrow a limb, however they will usually only regrow one at a time because the process takes a lot of energy.

The regrown limb will be smaller than the other limbs but will continue to grow as the crab continues to molt.

TIP

A molting crab is much like a snake shedding their skin. They are often grumpy during this process and might be more territorial than usual. You should not try to pull the molt off of your crab as this can cause damage and be painful.

How does the vampire crab protect itself?

The vampire crab has a hard shell called a carapace. Between this hard casing and their mighty pincers they have a good defense system but they will take advantage of any hiding spots or caves to protect themselves.

Where can I get one?

Your local pet store should have vampire crabs or the ability to get some if requested. However, be sure to check breeders in your area as they generally have healthier stock.

Is the vampire crab for you?

If you’re looking for a feisty personality to spice up your paludarium that also has low maintenance requirements the vampire crab could be the perfect addition to your tank.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while the interesting appearance and frightening name may draw aquarists to the vampire crab they often fall in love with their spicy personality and quirky nature. They’re easy care level makes them a perfect fit for first time crustacean keepers and those who love paludariums. As long as you can give them clean, tropical water conditions and a varied diet, you should have a healthy and happy crab.

(1) AverageWalrus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(2) Eumeldingens, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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