Hermit crabs usually use shells as armor for their bodies. But all the plastic waste in the sea makes it even more creative: two-thirds of animals now use it as an artificial shell.
Scientists came to this conclusion in the journal Holistic ecology.
Their attention was caught by photos of nature lovers that appeared on the Internet. “We saw something extraordinary,” says researcher Marta Sulkin of the University of Warsaw. BBC News. “Suddenly they have a plastic sheet or a piece of light bulb on their back.”
She and her colleagues found nearly four hundred photographs of hermit crabs wearing artificial shells on their backs, most of them made from plastic bottle caps.
Although researchers found the images “saddening”, it is not clear whether carrying this plastic waste harms the animals. Researchers say it may actually help lobsters. “I think we really need to understand that we live in a different era and animals use what is available to them,” Szolkin says.
That's why researchers also want to know what effect this has on lobster evolution. For example, plastic can become a standard substitute if there are very few shells to choose from. According to Zolkin, the lighter plastic “shells” are easier to carry and can help weaker lobsters survive.