8 Animals That Recycle in Their Everyday Lives

A few animals take "reduce, reuse, recycle" to the next level.

A coconut octopus carrying a clamshell

Mathieu Meur / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images 

Most animals live in a delicate ecological balance with their natural surroundings. It's simply the most efficient formula for survival: Take only what is needed, and waste as little of it as possible. But a few animals take "reduce, reuse, recycle" to the next level.

Here are eight animals that are some of nature's best recyclers.

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A male satin bowerbird next to his bower decorated with blue pieces of plastic

Samuel Moore / Getty Images

Perhaps nature's greatest recyclers are birds. Many urban species have adapted to life in human environments by building their nests with whatever is available, which often includes anything from discarded string and newspapers to paper clips and plastic.

Bowerbirds from New Guinea and Australia, which construct elaborate and garish "bowers" in order to attract mates, will often collect colorful trash (such as bottle caps and plastics) and repurpose it for bower decoration. They like the bright colors that do not fade away, but of course these pose a serious risk; bits of plastic trash can get caught around birds' necks.

Birds like pigeons and gulls also take advantage of food waste that is left behind by humans, gobbling up what they can—but again, this isn't necessarily a good thing, as birds aren't always meant to eat human food and can choke on items, such as plastic, that they think are food but aren't.

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Hermit Crabs

A hermit crab on sand next to a larger shell

Jeffrey Hamilton / Getty Images

Hermit crabs don't grow their own shells, so to protect themselves they have to salvage shells abandoned by other sea life, usually from sea snails. But they'll actually use whatever they can find, which often includes plastic or glass bottles and cans. (This can be troublesome if the crab enters a plastic bottle and does not come out; it can starve from lack of food and water, and the scent of its dead body will attract other crabs to a similar fate, who think there's a good shell to claim.)

People who keep hermit crabs as pets also have the option of providing them with artificial shells, which can be made from recycled materials. As a crab grows, it must often seek out new shells that provide a better fit. Hermit crabs also may eat their old shells for nutrients. In this way, these cute crustaceans are constantly recycling dwellings that would otherwise go to waste.

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Orb-Weaver Spiders

orb-weaver spider in a web surrounded by fall leaves

Steve Satushek / Getty Images 

All spiderwebs represent remarkable engineering feats, but few match the eco-friendly design showcased by some orb-weaver spiders. Particularly the species Cyclosa ginnaga, which decorates its web with whatever debris it can find, such as leaves and twigs. Though the ultimate purpose of the decoration is for luring in prey or for concealing the web, this spider's use of readily available materials is still worth noting.

Many orb-weaver spiders rebuild their nests every day, so they are always busy recycling. This helps keep both their webs and their surrounding environment clean.

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Dung Beetles

Two African dung beetles with a ball of feces rolled in dirt

Nimit Virdi / Getty Images 

To the dung beetle, even poop is a valuable resource. This insect lives to collect and repurpose your poop. Not only do dung beetles build their homes out of feces, but they also eat it and lay their eggs in it. Adult male dung beetles are sometimes referred to as "rollers," since their waste-collection strategy is to roll excrement into balls and offer it to a female, so they can easily roll it away together.

The environmental value of dung beetles shouldn't be understated. It's estimated that dung beetles save the United States cattle industry $380 million annually by repurposing livestock feces.

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A coconut octopus sitting in a clamshell underwater

Brent Durand / Getty Images 

Octopuses are probably the smartest invertebrates on the planet, and nothing quite displays their cunning as much as their tool use. Several species, such as the coconut octopus, have been observed building shelters out of discarded debris. These makeshift homes are built from anything found lying around, from cracked coconut shells, to abandoned sea shells, to glass jars and other containers thrown away as trash. It just goes to show that one creature's waste is another creature's treasure—though it's admittedly sad to see a beautiful octopus residing in a thrown-away can.

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Coral reef attached to a sunken anchor

Vincent Pommeyrol / Getty Images

It has been estimated that 75% of all coral reefs around the world are threatened, but there is also reason to hope. Though sensitive to variations in their environment, these animals are also remarkably adaptable in that they are able to attach themselves to just about any hard surface they can find. This includes shipwrecks, undersea pipelines, and even oil rigs. By repurposing wreckage on the seafloor, they also provide habitat for the countless other species that rely on the ecology of coral reefs for sustenance.

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A monarch butterfly on a purple flower in a field of purple flowers

 Claude LeTien / Getty Images

A creature that really knows how to reuse is the monarch butterfly. Before making their transformation into elegant butterflies, monarch caterpillars eat their old home. The monarch lays its eggs and the larva begins to grow inside the egg. When its time in the egg is finished, the larva chews its way to freedom, and eats the rest of its egg home.

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An orange lobster sticking its face and claws out of an underwater reef

Humberto Ramirez / Getty Images 

Lobsters, which grow by molting, have found a way of making use of their old shells. These ocean dwellers grow significantly during their lifetime. When a lobster molts, it first absorbs the minerals that caused its shell to harden, softening the shell, and allowing the lobster to break free. During their wait for a new shell to form, lobsters, which are scavengers by nature, sometimes eat their own nutrition-rich molted shell. This replenishes lost calcium and speeds up the hardening of the new shell.