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Ocean Plastic is Making Hermit Crabs Hungry and Horny, Study Finds

by Rudy Sanchez on 08/12/2021 | 2 Minute Read

“Hey, baby, you smell nice, like rotting plastic trash.”

Among humans, that’s a pick-up line that is unlikely to succeed and probably taken as a weird insult. But scientists in the UK have discovered that the smell of plastic garbage in the ocean is making hermit crabs frisky.

Researchers from the University of Hull in England observed elevated respiration rates, an indicator for sexual arousal, among 40 hermit crabs exposed to oleamide, a compound released by plastics in the ocean. Besides having a Barry-White-like effect on the hermit crabs, oleamide can also be mistaken for food, as the smell also resembles rotting arthropods. The unfortunate consequence, researchers point out, is that hermit crabs will make a trip in search of food or fornication, only to find neither. When confused for food, the plastic creates a deadly and toxic trap for the poor hermit crabs.

“Our study shows that oleamide attracts hermit crabs. Respiration rate increases significantly in response to low concentrations of oleamide, and hermit crabs show a behavioral attraction comparable to their response to a feeding stimulant,” says Paula Schirrmacher, a member of the research team.

Hermit crabs not getting laid might not seem like much of a human problem, but the very same plastic ingested by animals can find its way into our food chain. And while some folks might get turned on by the smell of decomposing plastic—no kink-shaming intended—the health consequences of microplastic inside us are still not fully understood but already alarming


Editorial photograph

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