Plastic waste is at an all-time high, with reports of tiny plastic falling from the sky even being seen as recently as 2020. But as many try to find ways to deal with the growing trash that litter our shorelines, hermit crabs have taken to using the waste as homes, creating plastic shells from the waste we leave behind. It’s a sad twist that should leave most of us feeling disappointed.
A new study headed by researchers at the University of Warsaw in Poland looks at close to 29,000 images of hermit crabs that have appeared on online platforms over the past several years. Of those images, the researchers discovered at least 386 that had taken to using plastic for their shells.
The researchers estimate that the problem impacts at least 10 of 16 terrestrial hermit crab species found throughout the Earth’s tropical regions. This growing trend of plastic hermit crab shells only highlights the issues that surround our planet and plastic waste at the moment, an issue that continues to grow by the day.
Some of the photos showcased in the study show hermit crabs living in plastic caps and even in the broken ends of lightbulbs. But why exactly are these creatures choosing our plastic waste over the tried and true shells they’ve used for thousands of years? There are a few factors, the researchers say.
For one, the plastic hermit crab shells may be more appealing to female hermit crabs. These plastics are generally lighter than traditional shells, and they can even be used as camouflage on beaches and environments that are especially polluted. These shouldn’t be looked at as pros, though, as plastic waste continues to worsen all around the world.
Ultimately, it isn’t clear whether or not the plastic shells are having an adverse impact on the hermit crabs that choose them. But, it is a stark reminder that our pollution of the planet is getting out of hand, to the point that it is even causing hermit crabs to take notice of it.
The researchers say they hope to complete a follow-up study to gain a better understanding of how plastic hermit crab shells might be affecting their behavior and evolution.