Plastic pollution has killed over half a million hermit crabs both on land and sea as they are trapped and poisoned by it. But new evidence suggests that a chemical in plastics is posing a much more sinister threat to their existence.
Hermit crabs are getting drawn to oleamide, a common chemical additive in plastic products. They mistake the smell of the chemical for food.
Scientists believe that the hermit crabs are wasting valuable foraging time and energy due to the presence of the chemical additive. Paula Schirrmacher, a biology and marine science researcher, said that this chemical is a stressor that has the potential to waste the energy and time of the hermit crabs, who are already faced with other stressors such as ocean acidification and climate change.
Hermit Crabs’ Food Source Release Compound Similar To Those Found In Plastic
Published in the Marine Pollution Journal, the report said that this new finding could be a threat to the population of the hermit crabs and push them to the edge of extinction.
Researchers found that oleamide, a derivative of the naturally causing oleic acid found in many animals fats is turning hermit crabs hyperactive. They studied around 40 crabs off the coast of Yorkshire and discovered the presence of high levels of the chemical additive.
The crabs confuse the chemical with a natural chemical released by their food source. This could affect not only this particular species but could also cause harm to the overall ecosystem.
Lead researcher Jack Greenshields said that hermit crabs are scavengers in nature and forage for decaying corpses that release naturally occurring oleic acid. Both chemicals have a similar composition. The plastic additive has a smell strikingly similar to the naturally occurring chemical.
Hermit crabs rush towards the source of the smell, mistaking it for a source of food. Plastic pollution has affected every marine species. Sea turtles are also drawn to food by smell and have been observed to be attracted to plastic trash.
Plastic has also been found in the stomach of various species, including seabirds, turtles, and even whales. Schirrmacher says that plastic poses a threat to all forms of wildlife in the oceans. She says that researchers need to focus on the reason that marine creatures, such as hermit crabs, are getting attracted to plastic in the first place.