How Microplastics Are Making Life Unbearable For Hermit Crabs

How Microplastics Are Making Life Unbearable For Hermit Crabs

Microplastics And The Hermit Crabs


  • Microplastic Pollution’s Impact on Marine Life: The study examined the detrimental effects of microplastics on European hermit crabs, shedding light on the broader issue of plastic pollution in the oceans.
  • Selection of European Hermit Crabs: European hermit crabs were chosen as a model for studying the behavioral effects of microplastic exposure. These crabs rely on empty shells for protection and evaluate and select shells through visual and tactile cues.
  • Short-Term Exposure Experiment: The study involved short-term exposure of hermit crabs to microplastics. The crabs were presented with better and worse shell options than their current shells, and their reactions were observed.
  • Behavioral Effects on Hermit Crabs: Hermit crabs exposed to microplastics exhibited diminished interest in better shell options, took longer to approach them, and engaged less in territorial assessment behaviors.
  • Wider Implications and Need for Further Research: While the study offers insights into the behavioral effects of microplastics on European hermit crabs, it is essential to consider potential species-specific responses.

A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom has revealed that hermit crabs exposed to microplastics experience impairments. This is in their decision-making and assessments.

These findings, published in the journal Animals, shed light on the detrimental effects of microplastic pollution on marine life.

Behavioral Effects of Microplastic Exposure on European Hermit Crabs Revealed

The Impact of Plastic Pollution: Plastic production has been rapidly increasing. This is since the mid-20th century, resulting in a significant accumulation of plastic waste.

Approximately 10% of plastic waste finds its way into the oceans, where it breaks down into smaller particles known as microplastics.

This poses a severe threat to marine ecosystems and organisms. Microplastics are prevalent in oceans worldwide and have been identified as a major water pollutant.

The Study Focuses on European Hermit Crabs. European hermit crabs were selected as a novel model to study the behavioral effects of microplastic exposure.

These crabs rely on empty shells of gastropods for protection, assessing and selecting shells through visual and tactile cues.

Previous research has suggested that exposure to microplastics impairs their ability to evaluate and switch shells.

Investigating Short-Term Exposure: To determine the impact of short-term exposure to microplastics, the study’s authors, led by Andrew Crump, designed an experiment involving European hermit crabs.

They presented the crabs with a better and worse shell option than their current one and observed their reactions.

The Experimental Setup: The researchers collected 51 hermit crabs from Ballywalter Beach in Northern Ireland. The crabs were divided into two groups, with one group exposed to microplastics.

Polyethylene spheres, commonly found in marine organisms, were added to the tank of the exposed group. This replicates the concentration and type of microplastics found on European coastlines.

Observing the Hermit Crab Behavior: After five days of exposure to microplastics, the crabs were provided with shells of the flat periwinkle.

They were weighing 50% of the optimal shell weight preferred by European hermit crabs. The crabs were given time to recover and adjust to their new shells.

Subsequently, they were placed in a testing tank with two vials containing shells of different weights.

The Findings

The study revealed that hermit crabs exposed to microplastics showed diminished interest. This is in the better shell option compared to the control group.

Also, these exposed crabs took longer to approach the better shell. Also, it displayed reduced engagement in rapping behavior, which indicates territorial claims and assessment processes.

Importantly, these results suggested that microplastic exposure affected the crabs’ cognitive abilities related to assessment and decision-making.

Considerations and Conclusions: While this study provides valuable insights into the behavioral effects of microplastics on European hermit crabs, it is important to note that other species may respond differently.

The study solely focused on hermit crabs from a specific beach, and their pre-study exposure to microplastics was not known.

Further research is needed to explore the cognitive processes affected and to expand the understanding of microplastic impacts on various marine species.

This study highlights the urgent need to address the growing problem of microplastic pollution and its detrimental effects on marine ecosystems.

Taking effective measures to reduce plastic waste and prevent the release of microplastics into the environment is crucial for the well-being of marine life.

Related findings include:

1. Impacts on other marine species: While the study focused on European hermit crabs, similar effects of microplastic exposure on behavior have been observed in other marine organisms.

Studies have shown that various species, such as fish, sea turtles and zooplankton, can also experience behavioral changes. Also, impaired decision-making due to microplastic exposure.

2. Long-term effects: The study examined the short-term effects of microplastic exposure on hermit crab behavior.

However, it is important to investigate the potential long-term consequences. Research suggests that chronic exposure to microplastics may lead to cumulative behavioral impairments and physiological disruptions in marine animals.

3. Ecological implications: The behavioral changes observed in hermit crabs due to microplastic exposure can have broader ecological implications.

For instance, if hermit crabs are less likely to switch to better shells, they may face increased vulnerability to predation or limited growth and reproduction.

Such impacts on key species within marine ecosystems can disrupt ecological balance and cascade through food webs.

4. Multi-stressor interactions: Microplastic pollution often co-occurs with other stressors in marine environments, such as chemical pollution, habitat degradation and climate change.

Understanding how these multiple stressors interact and synergistically affect behavior is crucial for comprehending the overall impact on marine organisms.

Microplastics in different habitats: The study focused on hermit crabs from a specific beach in the United Kingdom. However, microplastic pollution is a global issue and different habitats may exhibit varying levels of microplastic contamination.

Further investigations across diverse marine environments can provide a comprehensive understanding of the geographical extent and variability of microplastic impacts on behavior.


Mitigation strategies: Exploring effective mitigation strategies to reduce microplastic pollution is imperative. This includes implementing proper waste management practices. Also, promoting recycling and advocating for policies that minimize the production and use of single-use plastics.

Additionally, innovative technologies for microplastic removal from aquatic ecosystems are being developed and should be further explored.

These additional findings highlight the complexity of the issue and emphasize the need for continued research and proactive measures to address the detrimental effects of microplastics on marine organisms and ecosystems.

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