With their cute crawling behavior and borrowed shells, hermit crabs are often loved by children and adults alike. Hermit crabs scavenge for suitable housing by using other gastropod’s discarded shells for protection and brood space. This scavenging is intense as the hermit crabs need to find a discarded shell whenever they grow out of their current shell. So the scavenging continues over the course of a crab’s lifetime. Since the 70’s researchers have noticed that hermit crabs are limited by shell availability. Much like apartment availability in NYC, empty shells can be scarce, in bad condition, or of a suboptimal size. Shells also suffer due to the modern problem of ocean acidification, which leaves shells brittle. What’s a poor hermit crab to do?
Some hermit crabs have been forced to scrappily make do with other discarded objects, including beer bottles and shotgun shells. Some humans, including two men at Makerbot, a DIY digital design lab, have decided that this is not acceptable.
How can these techies solve a shelter shortage for these small, scavenging, aquatic creatures?
Makerbot’s solution, cleverly called “Project Shellter,” is to use 3D printers to produce 3D shells for the hermit crabs. The printed shells would have the benefit of being able to be designed to meet specific sizes needed by the growing crabs. Currently, the 3d shells are in trial mode, with “crabitat” prototypes in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The prototypes were created with the Thing-O-Matic, a 3d printer that has already been a hit at the Maker Faire and among the tech community.
No one knows yet if the crabs will like or use these fabricated 3D shells. So far the prototypes are being made in one of two plastics: ABS (think Lego) or PLA (biodegradable plastic). Makerbot is crowdsourcing design ideas for the shells. If you have an idea go to the website thingiverse.com with the tag “shellter.” I’m sure the Makerbots have considered any long term impacts from the plastic shells after the hermit crabs have discarded them for a large size shell, but I haven’t read the discussion on this yet.
For now, if I was a hermit crab, the idea of a brand spanking new home sounds a lot better to me than a shotgun shack.