Crabs With Beach Trash Homes – Okinawa, Japan

  Crabs with beach trash homes is a series I am currently working on. I photograph Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus) that have begun to use beach trash as their home. The crabs are photographed in their nature environment and also on white for the Meet Your Neighbours global biodiversity project. The images are used for environmental awareness and educational purposes.
Hermit crabs with beach trash homes

Hermit crabs with beach trash homes © Shawn Miller

 Blueberry hermit crabs are commonly found on local beaches in Okinawa. Most crabs are blue but occasionally have color variations of purple, pink, orange and or gray. They prefer to have a seashell as a protective home but when no shell is available they adapt.

Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Blueberry hermit crab (Coenobita purpureus) with a seashell © Shawn Miller

Before plastic caps filled our shorelines, hermit crabs adapted using tree nuts if no shells were available.

Hermit crab and tree nut

Hermit crab and tree nut © Shawn Miller

It’s becoming more common to find crabs with beach trash homes.  I have friends combing local beaches in search of more crabs for my series. While these are cute images, our trash is becoming a serious problem to the ocean and the animals that call the shoreline home. I often find hermit crabs using a variety of plastic caps from twist top pet bottles, laundry detergent containers, small propane tanks, sports water bottles and beauty supplies.

Possible reason why Blueberry crabs adapt with beach trash
  • Limited number of available shells causing them to make due with the best homes they can find. This is a good example of adaptive behavior.

Hermit crabs are very social animals and often fight over shells. Having a protective lightweight shell that covers the abdomen (soft parts of the animal) is crucial for survival.

Hermit crabs fighting

Hermit crabs fighting over prime real estate © Shawn Miller

 

The battle -

Battle over real estate © Shawn Miller

A close-up of the sensitive abdomen (photographed using the MYN technique)

Naked hermit crab

Naked hermit crab © Shawn Miller

Hermit crabs are scavengers and take advantage of any food washed ashore. They mainly feed on dead fish, barnacles, other crabs, algae, insects, plants, fruit and various seeds. The screw pine (Pandanus odifer) is one of their favorite foods. I imagine long ago these vital plants lined our shorelines in abundance. Numbers are decreasing due to deforestation.

Pandus odifer

Pandanus odifer © Shawn Miller

Eventually the fruit drops to the ground and the sweet smell attracts the hermit crabs

Hermit crab feeding

Hermit crab feeding © Shawn Miller

The hermit crabs feed on the the fresh keys and help with seed dispersal. They both benefit in this relationship.  The Pandanus tree provides shelter, shade, food for the hermit crabs.

Hermit crab and Pandanus

Hermit crab and Pandanus © Shawn Miller

Eventually the keys dry, turn brown and litter the local beaches. The dispersed keys provide a perfect environment for hermit crabs to blend in with.

Where the treeline meet the beach

Where the treeline meet the beach © Shawn Miller

Hermit crabs prefer to be in a shell that protects the entire body from predators. Sometimes they have to temporarily adapt with a much smaller shell.  The retracted hermit crab tightens up to protect itself.  Ball up, play dead and blend into the environment, minimizing the risk of being preyed upon.

Could this be a form of masquerading or just coincidence ?  It resembles (mimics) the shape of the screw pine seed to possibly avoid detection from potential predators.

Hermit crab and screw pine seed

Hermit crab and screw pine seed © Shawn Miller

Hermit crabs have the ability to ball up tight to protect their eyes. (Transformers)

Hermit crab retracted

Hermit crab retracted © Shawn Miller

Below are some of my favorite images photographed on a portable field studio board (MYN Technique). The crabs are safely placed on a white studio board, photographed and released back into the natural environment (MYN Technique).

 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Blueberry hermit crab (Coenobita purpureus) with cap © Shawn Miller

 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Blueberry hermit crab (Coenobita purpureus) in plastic tube © Shawn Miller

 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Blueberry hermit crab (Coenobita purpureus) in plastic top cap © Shawn Miller

 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Blueberry hermit crab (Coenobita purpureus) in plastic © Shawn Miller

 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus) in plastic cap © Shawn Miller

 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)
Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus) in plastic top cap © Shawn Miller
Blueberry hermit crab- Ryukyu Islands.

Blueberry hermit crab- Ryukyu Islands © Shawn Miller

Blueberry hermit crab

Blueberry hermit crab – Okuma, Okinawa © Shawn Miller

It’s important to photograph the hermit crabs in their natural habitat.  I prefer to photograph them using a wide angle lens to achieve a unique perspective.

Meet zori -Wide angle macro

Meet zori -Wide angle macro © Shawn Miller

Hermit crab- Plastic pollution

Hermit crab- Plastic pollution © Shawn Miller

Blueberry hermit crab, Hedo-Okinawa

Blueberry hermit crab,  Wide angle macro © Shawn Miller

Meet scoop- Quaker

Meet scoop- Quaker © Shawn Miller

Meet shady

Meet shady – Worldwide trash problem

Hermit crab in a glass bottle

Hermit crab in a glass bottle- Yomitan, Okinawa.

Meet cassette -CWBTH

Meet cassette -CWBTH © Shawn Miller

Airplane -Senaga Island ,Okinawa

Airplane -Senaga Island ,Okinawa © Shawn Miller

Blueberry hermit crab, Onna-Okinawa

Land hermit crab, Onna-Okinawa © Shawn Miller

Meet sparky- using a plastic cap from a cassette gas tank

Meet sparky- using a plastic cap from a cassette gas tank © Shawn Miller

Energy drink home- Trash homes

Energy drink home- Trash homes © Shawn Miller

 

The rock climber -Okinawa

The rock climber -Northern Okinawa © Shawn Miller

Sunset - Yomitan ,Okinawa

Sunset Time – Yomitan ,Okinawa © Shawn Miller

Beach pollution- CWBTH

Beach pollution- CWBTH © Shawn Miller

Tree climber-

Tree climber- © Shawn Miller

Plastic pollution - beach trash

Plastic pollution – beach trash © Shawn Miller

Crabs and plastic

Crabs and plastic – WAM © Shawn Miller

Got Meds -Beach trash

Got Meds -Beach trash © Shawn Miller

Get off the road jack -

Get off the road jack – © Shawn Miller

Crabs and plastic -Onna Village

Crabs and plastic -Onna Village © Shawn Miller

I also photograph the hermit crabs using a dedicated macro lens. I mainly use the Canon 60 mm or 100 mm macro lens to concentrate on the subject. These crabs are fairly small and  it’s important to have a lens that will focus close and deliver high quality sharpness.

Meet Edison- Gobe700

Meet Edison- Gobe700 © Shawn Miller

Meet hand -toy end cap

Meet hand -toy end cap © Shawn Miller

Beach trash -hermit crabs

Beach trash -hermit crabs © Shawn Miller

 

erry hermit crab, Okuma-Okinawa

Blueberry hermit crab, Okuma-Okinawa © Shawn Miller

Laundry detergent cap - Northern Okinawa

Laundry detergent cap – Northern Okinawa © Shawn Miller

Cassette gas tank cap - bbq beach party

Cassette gas tank cap – bbq beach party © Shawn Miller

White cap on drift wood

White cap on drift wood © Shawn Miller

Meet scoop-

Meet scoop- © Shawn Miller

Blueberry hermit crab, Hedo-Okinawa

Blueberry hermit crab, Hedo-Okinawa © Shawn Miller

 

Meet Edison -Gobe700

Meet Edison -Gobe700 © Shawn Miller

Blueberry hermit crab, Onna-Okinawa

Blueberry hermit crab, Onna-Okinawa © Shawn Miller

erry hermit crab, Hedo-Okinawa

Blueberry hermit crab, Hedo-Okinawa © Shawn Miller

School project  ” Crabs with beach trash homes ”  My family and I collected trash on a  local beach in Onna village. This is just a small portion of our beach trash findings.  The kids did a great job creating a project with impact.

Kirana's school project

Kirana’s school project © Shawn Miller

Kyle's school project

Kyle’s school project © Shawn Miller

Behind the scenes photograph  ” Crabs with beach trash homes ” I have documented over sixty crabs with beach trash homes. If you would like to see more images check out my Flickr account.

Shawn Miller - Crabs with beach trash homes.  photographed by David Orr

Shawn Miller – Crabs with beach trash homes.    Photographed by David Orr

 

June 10th 2010 was my first experience seeing a hermit crab with a trash home.  
 Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus)

Land hermit crab  climbing a tree © Shawn Miller

My series ” Crabs with beach trash homes ” has been featured on World Wildlife Fund, Petapixel, Business Insider, National Geographic (Belgium), Atlas Obscura, Global citizen, Plethorist, Daily telegraph, Littlethings, 15minutenews, Roaring earth, Hyperdojo, News.com.au, Follownews, Neotorama, Boingboing, Insider, Additivist, Now100fm and varies Scientific websites.

Our trash is becoming a serous problem on our shorelines!    Let’s keep our shorelines clean!

Have a great day!