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3D Printers To Save Hermit Crabs 107

Shareable writes "Makerbot just launched Project Shellter, which will leverage the Makerbot community's network of 5,000 3D printers to make shells for hermit crabs — which face a species-threatening, man-made shell shortage (they inhabit abandoned shells)."
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3D Printers To Save Hermit Crabs

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  • By printing more suckers.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Forget the Wall Street suckers, how is more plastic junk in the ocean a good thing?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Plastic is an organic compound and will break down a lot faster than the mineral structure of "natural" seashells.
        What we consider to be unpleasant but non-toxic waste does not necessarily have to be bad for the sea-life.
        For example a car-wreck dumped into the ocean can make a great substitute for coral reefs.

        • What AC said is true. One though has to remember to remove oils (including the gearbox, transmission, etc.) and fuel. Rest will work quite well as a reef seed.
    • by Surt ( 22457 )

      I thought the problem on wall street was too many suckers, not enough suckees.

  • New Shells? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pikoro ( 844299 ) <> on Sunday October 23, 2011 @09:36AM (#37809184) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps it could be named "Project bash"?

  • Real problem? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @09:37AM (#37809190) Homepage

    Is there any evidence that this is a real problem, as opposed to an art project, PR stunt, or whatever?

    • Indeed! How about focussing on why there is a shortage of natural shells? Is there a gastropod sickness going around? Are the mollusks dying off for some reason?

      Also, shouldn't we be making these pseudo-shells out of glass or ceramic rather than some potentially toxin leaching plastic?
      • Re:Real problem? (Score:5, Informative)

        by ChinggisK ( 1133009 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @10:02AM (#37809340)
        Natural shells are in short supply because people pick them up and take them home.

        No source other than my marine biologist wife and years of living near Florida beaches.
        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by JustOK ( 667959 )

          some get the shells, some just get crabs.

        • Re:Real problem? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by steelframe ( 590694 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @10:49AM (#37809562)
          When my wife and I were in Fiji years ago she would set the nice shells she had collected that day out on the deck to dry out. In the morning the shells was scattered and the best were always gone. It was like a crab used car lot where they drive in with a Pinto and leave with a Porsche. A one stop shop that I'm sure the crabs appreciated.
          • Ya, that sucks. Good thing she didn't crabjack them though. I bet the Fiji government wouldn't be too happy about that.

          • Hmmm.

            Did the crabs leave their old shells behind?

            Or, did your wife kill some animals by pick up living shells...which were taken by the birds for an easy night-time snack?

        • Yet in the seafood industry, shells are tossed in the trash. Escargot shells should be "recycled".

          • I'm honestly not even sure that it's considered a major problem, I just know that people taking shells home is at least something of a concern for biologists.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by flyingsquid ( 813711 )
      This project is just so completely naive and asinine, it's hard to even know where to start. From their site:

      "With a shell shortage, hermit crabs around the world are being forced to stick their butts into bottles, shotgun shells, and anything else they can find. This is not acceptable. As a community, we can reach out to this vulnerable species..."

      First of all, scarcity of a resource- in this case, shelters- is just how things operate in nature. It's not a sign that something is necessarily wrong, becaus

      • First of all, scarcity of a resource- in this case, shelters- is just how things operate in nature. It's not a sign that something is necessarily wrong, because in a healthy ecosystem, there's never enough to go around for everyone.

        Sure, if humans weren't around to muck everything up, nature's balance would be fine. I've talked to a real marine biologist who said people take enough shells from the beach that there is a real shortage in certain areas. I would not call that a healthy ecosystem.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Sunday October 23, 2011 @09:38AM (#37809200)

    One of the challenges is that no one knows yet if hermit crabs will live in man-made plastic shells.

    But hey so long as we can sell 5000 people more plastic filament replacements who cares, it's for a good cause, right?

    • Re:From TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TexNex ( 513254 ) <nexxius&gmail,com> on Sunday October 23, 2011 @09:48AM (#37809276) Homepage

      Hermit crabs will live in anything they can get their ass into and fully hide under. I've seen them "wear" bottle tops and in one case a plastic cup.

      • Re:From TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @10:02AM (#37809334)

        This is true I had a pet hermit crab when I was younger and we couldn't find a shell big enough for it so I put one of my plastic toys in the cage with it and it took up residence in it the same day. Although, I have to admit that unless these crabs are in the wild it doesn't really matter because hermit crabs do not require a shell to survive it is only used for pretection from preditors. My hermit crab went without a shell for quite a while before I put a toy in the tank with it.

        • I wonder then has anyone patented designer hermit shells for pets, it seems like the logical next step.
        • What was the toy?

        • Wrong! Hermit Crabs found in most US pet shops or on the boardwalk are commonly referred to as "Purple Pinchers". They carry around water in their shells and need access to both fresh and salt water (or a mix made from Instant Ocean) which they to adjust to their preferred salinity. A crab without its shell is in distress either because it needs to molt, has outgrown its shell or it's sick. Crabs will resist like crazy before they give up their shells because they have an instinctive need to have a shell pr
    • by tgd ( 2822 )

      One of the challenges is that no one knows yet if hermit crabs will live in man-made plastic shells.

      But hey so long as we can sell 5000 people more plastic filament replacements who cares, it's for a good cause, right?

      That has to be the goal of this. I have to hope, for the sake of our species, that no one is actually THAT stupid.

  • from the article: "But, a thought - how about we stop destroying hermit crab homes in the first place? Isn't putting too much plastic stuff in the ocean part of the problem? "

    Is plastic (ABS) the only thing a Makerbot can work with?

    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      RepRap, the design the Makerbot was based on, can and has printed with ABS, PLA, Polycarbonate, PET, and Nylon (though vague worries about fumes have meant it's rarely used). As long as you can feed it into the extruder and set the correct temperature, you can print any thermoplastic.
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      from the article: "But, a thought - how about we stop destroying hermit crab homes in the first place? Isn't putting too much plastic stuff in the ocean part of the problem? "

      Is plastic (ABS) the only thing a Makerbot can work with?

      Any 3-d printer can make a shell, or pretty much anything that fits inside its work envelope. A makerbot is one specific type of 3d printer. I'm very intermittently building my own 3-d printer out of aluminum bar stock, following the most recent reprap design, at which point I'll be able to print stuff such as another, bigger reprap printer...

      plastic (ABS) implies theres only one plastic that being ABS. I see you didn't even look at the makerbot website, since they sell water soluble PVA and sorta biodeg

  • man-made shell shortage (they inhabit abandoned shells)

    Well, that explains where my Thompson shell went...

  • I don't know about anywhere else but, the hermit crabs out here aren't hurting for shells. The problem should be even worse as they are in competition with young coconut crabs too.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      There are definitely places where there are shortages of the kinds of shells needed by some kinds of hermit crabs. Some of them are pretty particular about the exact shape of what they move into. (Others, as mentioned above, are pretty much generalists.)

      Whether there's a shortage in any particular locale can depend on lots of factors. S.J.Gould in one of his articles mentioned a kind of hermit crab that would only live in the shells of a now (recently) extinct species of mollusk. They were pretty durabl

  • FTFA:

    With a shell shortage, hermit crabs around the world are being forced to stick their butts into bottles, shotgun shells, and anything else they can find.

    I keep tellin' them pesky neighborhood ranch association folks that it ain't no trash in my front yard. That there's a Hermit Crab Sanctuary.

    And them crabs keeps their kids off my lawn.

    At least I think there's still a lawn down there below the trash.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The strength of makerbot is that lets people be creative, make things, and share their stuff. Mass producing something by telling everybody to make the same thing is counterproductive. Use molds or something if you want mass production, it will probably cost less when you look at the energy bill anyway.

    • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @10:33AM (#37809482)

      Mass production doesn't allow for the creative preferences of the crab population. By establishing a reference model shell standard as a starting point, all manner of customization can then be offered as upgrades - multiple rooms, fancy foyers, etc. Although perhaps not every crab should look for the upscale options, with some clever financing alternatives it should be possible to create an open ended boom in the marketplace and enable crabs of all means to look forward to ever rising valuations.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't seem to find any scholarly source that would say they(hermit crabs) are actually short on shells...

    also, it appears the shit they are proposing to use can be harmful to albatrosses.

  • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @10:22AM (#37809424)

    But this probably takes the cake.

    I have to hope this is just a (lame) attempt at advertising, and not that the dimwits involved in this actually believe that its better for the hermit crabs to ship plastic around the world, manufacture it into the spools the MakerBot uses, then use all that electricity to fabricate a plastic shell, and then tossing *plastic* into the ocean is actually going to help hermit crabs.

    You know, hermit crabs -- an animal of which there are billions in the ocean. (I'm sure a few thousand suckers making these will really help the species!)

    You know, an animal that will live in ANY scavanged hollow-enough item.

    And if said dimwits actually believe they're helping anything, it just goes to show the aversion to reason and science isn't limited to the radical right.

    • Not to mention that the ABS plastic used in a maker bot *floats*

      I had already posted a comment on MB's web page last Friday, asking if this was just a publicity stunt, but for some reason it wasn't moderated as approved...


      • ABS sinks in water. It's density is about 1.2 g/cm3 so it's 1.2 times heavier than water. Of commonly used plastics, only PE and PP float in water. The rest sinks.
        • Print a solid block from a maker bot - set infill to 100%, put it in water and watch it float. I know it does, because I tried it. Perhaps it's due to air that gets trapped by mistake, but "solid" ABS plastic prints from maker bots float.


          • Then indeed this must be due to air enclosures: either in the material, or in the final shape of the object you made (small spaces very easily trap air, for example). Most plastics shrink quite a bit when cooling down, and as I understand the makerbot uses molten plastic to make its shapes, and that also can create air bubbles inside the material.
    • by JamesP ( 688957 )


      Here's what happens, young person with good heart tries to solve world problem with technology. Problem is, they never left their parent's basement.

      They doesn't have the SLIGHTEST idea of the depth of the problems. They most likely lived in suburban America (or maybe Western Europe) and they think the whole world has a WalMart and they couldn't duct tape anything to save their lives...

      Hence, they go and create water filters "for poor regions" for $100 a pop. Pro-tip: in poor regions, families don't m

      • I agree that these guys are idiots, but it does raise a question. Isn't there some pressing need out there that cheap 3D rapid prototyping could help solve? What are the unique capabilities of this technology, and what problems would this technology be uniquely suited to solving? For instance, if you wanted to make components for cheap water filters, 3D rapid prototyping isn't the way to go. You'd get a Chinese company to manufacture the components cheaply in large quantities and then ship them to Africa. B
        • by JamesP ( 688957 )

          Great points!

          I think you nailed it, "rapid prototyping is useful when you only need to make one of something, and you need it right now"

              One thing I've heard about 3D printed things is that things made with it are very brittle, still, I know it's used for implants, I think they do a prototype then make it into a mold and cast something with other materials.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by BitwiseX ( 300405 )

      and then tossing *plastic* into the ocean

      and from their website:

      The goal is to create a printable hermit crab shell for domestic use thus reducing harvesting of natural shells

      So unless you live in the ocean, that's not their intention.
      I mean I get it.. you don't give a shit about hermit crabs, that's your prerogative, but these guys do. I can understand, we had a couple at the office and they were good pets! I do hope that you realize though, that if it wasn't for people like this, who try to help where others don't, the world would be a shitty(^Hier) place.
      It may be stupid, it may be illogical, it may even be pointless, but dammit at least they are

      • by tgd ( 2822 )

        Good intentions are good intentions, and the world needs more. (Can we make them with a MakerBot?)

        That's just plain moronic. Good intentions mean nothing when the only thing behind them is ignorance. The world is far better off with the ignorant masses doing nothing then the new rising trend of trying to do something. While there are certainly people on the side of ignorance who are doing it with bad intentions (denying vaccines, climate change, pushing creationism, or other trendy cause du jour), the vast majority of people pushing those agendas believe they're doing it with good intentions.

        The world n

  • by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <clipper377&gmail,com> on Sunday October 23, 2011 @10:29AM (#37809452) Homepage

    ...Why not Zoidberg?

    (especially since the episode where Zoidberg finds a shell has some of the best quick gags in the series.)

  • There are plenty of plastic objects in the sea causing a lot of problems for the sea-living animals and I don't think we need to add to these problems. Check out the following video:

    Chris Jordan on the Midway Project []
  • Scroll down past the article, there's more insight in the comments than the actual story. Makes you wonder if anyone really thought about the impact of 5000+ pieces of plastic going into the ocean hoping that these crabs take shelter... I really hope they have some more in depth research other than, "our pet hermit crab loves them!" There must be a reason glass blowers across the US haven't tackled this yet.
  • 3D printers being used to craft weighted shoes for hermit crabs found floating in tidal pools due to plastic shells.

    Has any stopped to think that these plastic shells will be just as much a novelty to collect on the shore? I'd want one.
  • by jayrtfm ( 148260 ) <(moc.tnohpos) (ta) (hsalsj)> on Sunday October 23, 2011 @11:12AM (#37809670) Homepage Journal

    This was tried in 2004 []
    TFA goes into detail on the reasons and shows actual experiments with prototypes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Going to public beaches in the US, it may be difficult to appreciate just how much this species has been depleted. For all of the years of going on vacation at US beaches, I only ever saw one hermit crab, the size of a pea. Last year we went to Costa Rica, and it was the same story on public beaches there. No hermit crabs to be found. Not even many intact shells to be found. When we went to a protected national park, however, it was a different story. You stepped onto the beach and the beach was runni

  • Makerbot is useful for making small runs of items, possibly one offs. By comparison to other forms of manufacture it is a time & energy intensive process. Using a technology like this for mass production sounds like a dumb idea from the get go.

    If were as simple as printing off some shells to save the species that marine biologists could phone an order to China and have a boxes of these things shipped to their door for a reasonable sum. I'm also fairly certain that there must be hundreds of potentially

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Everybody here seems to be thinking of hermit crabs as being one species. Or at least having identical preferences. This isn't correct. I don't know if any hermit crab would use the shells printed by a makerbot, but certainly there are lots of hermit crabs that wouldn't. For ANY design. It's worse than designing one pair of shoes for all people, and more like designing one pair for all primates.

      It's true, though, that some species of hermit crab seem to be willing to adopt any of a wide variety of home

      • ha ha, taint
      • by laird ( 2705 )

        The point of 3D printers, of course, is that they can make unique items. It'd be fun to algorithmically generate unique shells to see what the hermit crabs like.

        The thing that people here seem to be forgetting is that this is just a weird art project, like all of the "contests" that Makerbot runs. They're not seriously trying to save hermit crabs, any more than they were trying to get people to wear plastic printed bow-ties, or collect things based on a model of Stephen Colbert, or any of their other contes

  • Why not invest a little money in the hard tooling to make a lot of these things and stamp them out in volume. These 3D printers are suited for one-off designs, not for mass fabrication of large quantities of the same thing.

    However, putting together a fundraiser to pay for high volumes of what the hermit crabs actually need won't get the hype and eyespace that this project will. Nor will it sell more stuff to a demographic with a significant disposable income.

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?