Hermit Crabs are ‘wearing’ our rubbish

Sadly, Hermit Crabs are feeling the effects of a housing crisis too – and are turning to plastic pollution for a solution.

A new study published in the Science of The Total Environment Journal has revealed that natural shells are in decline globally. This means that for hermit crabs – who find shells to inhabit, and ‘upgrade’ as they grow older – are now using shell substitutes in the way of plastic pollution.

The study used social media as well as photo-sharing websites to gather proof in the way of imagery, and it’s certainly an eye-opening sight.

“We noticed something out of the ordinary,” urban ecologist Marta Szulkin told bbc.com. “Instead of being adorned with a beautiful shell, which is what we’re used to seeing – they would have a red plastic bottle cap on their back or piece of light bulb.”

Scientists said they are “heartbroken” to see the extent to which the animals were living in rubbish, and agree it’s a global phenomenon.

There are about 90 species of New Zealand’s hermit crab population found around our Aotearoa coastlines, so have our scientists seen it here?

“I haven’t seen or heard this happening locally,” says Richard Taylor, from the Leigh Marine Lab and Institute of Marine Science. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if it happens in places where shells are in short supply and there are plastic substitutes available.”

That’s great news for our crabs, at least. But it’s another reminder to leave beautiful shells on the beaches where they belong, and to take all rubbish with us after a day enjoying the seaside.

Main image by Shawn Miller

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