While plastic pollution has longed plagued marine life, there’s one species that isn’t feeling so crabby upon seeing it.
A team of researchers from the University of Hull in England was examining the impact of climate change and discarded plastic on hermit crabs in eastern England. However, what they didn’t expect to learn was how the plastic was sexually arousing the crabs.
A chemical found in plastic, oleamide, had been proven to be a stimulant to shrimp before. The researchers noticed when the hermit crabs dedicated the same chemical, their respiration rates increased, indicating excitement and attraction.
“Our study shows that oleamide attracts hermit crabs. Respiration rate increases significantly in response to low concentrations of oleamide, and hermit crabs show a behavioural attraction comparable to their response to a feeding stimulant,” doctoral candidate Paula Schirrmacher said in a statement.
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However, the reason why the hermit crabs are attracted by the additive may give clues to how marine life views plastic — as possible food.
“Oleamide also has a striking resemblance to oleic acid, a chemical released by arthropods during decomposition. As scavengers, hermit crabs may misidentify oleamide as a food source, creating a trap,” Schirrmacher said. “This research demonstrates that additive leaching may play a significant role in the attraction of marine life to plastic.”
The study of the hermit crabs wasn’t the only research showing how plastic is changing marine life. A team led by Katharina Wollenberg Valero found that plastic was having different effects for male and female mussels, with females being more sensitive to toxic chemicals found in plastics.
“We have found that their toxic effect can be amplified in a climate change scenario,” said student Luana Fiorella Mincarelli.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, as approximately eight tons of plastics are dumped into the ocean ever year.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.