CORRECTION: This story, which originally moved Aug. 11, has been updated to reflect the latest information released by England’s University of Hull, which corrected its own press release after publication to say its researchers found hermit crabs were probably “excited” and “attracted” to certain plastic toxins, but not “sexually excited.”
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LONDON – Oceans around the world are facing a plastic pollution crisis. But there’s one species that may be getting a little too excited about it: hermit crabs.
A chemical that is leaked from plastic dumped in the ocean is probably exciting and attracting hermit crabs, according to researchers studying the impact of climate change, plastic and other molecules in the ocean on marine species.
The team of scientists from England’s University of Hull examined 40 crabs found in the waters off the Yorkshire coast to see how they reacted to oleamide – an additive released by plastics found under the sea.
Oleamide elevated the respiration rate of hermit crabs, which indicates excitement and attraction, researchers said, noting the product already considered to be a sex pheromone for some species of marine life, such as shrimp. “Our study shows that oleamide attracts hermit crabs,” PhD candidate Paula Schirrmacher said in a statement released Tuesday.
“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,” she said.
Schirrmacher noted that oleamide has “a striking resemblance to oleic acid, a chemical released by arthropods during decomposition,” which may explain way it is mistaken for food and ingested by animals – which potentially increases their consumption of microplastics.
The new findings come as governments around the world continue to grapple with the major issue of climate change and its impact on the planet.
At a recent three-day summit in Cornwall, England, leaders from the Group of Seven gathered to discuss the growing crisis along with other pressing topics. During the June meeting, leaders pledged more-ambitious climate goals and reaffirmed their support to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
Without action, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, a study published by the World Economic Forum in 2016 warned.
More than 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which estimated that at least 90 percent of birds have plastic in their stomachs and that 1 in 2 marine turtles have consumed plastic – including bags and straws.
“The problem of plastic in nature, particularly in our oceans, is a global crisis,” the organization said in 2019 as it called on people to work together to help nature become plastic-free by 2030.