Hermit crabs that use scavenge shells as armor for their bodies are seen to use plastic waste. The conclusion is based on the analysis of photos and documentation by wildlife photographers and online publications. Scientists raised concerns about the rising plastic population in water bodies and said they were too heartbroken to see animals living in our rubbish.

Science of the Total Environment has published this discovery. The research utilized social media platforms and photo-sharing websites. Marta Szulkin, one of the researchers and an urban ecologist from the University of Warsaw, noted, “We began to observe something truly extraordinary.”

“Instead of being adorned with a beautiful snail shell, which is what we’re used to seeing – they would have a red plastic bottle cap on their back or a piece of light bulb.”

Marta Szulkin along with her university colleagues Łukasz Dylewski and Zuzanna Jagiello, found a total of 386 hermit crabs using artificial shells mainly plastic caps and lightbulbs.

“According to our calculations, ten out of the 16 species of land hermit crabs in the world use this type of shelter and it’s been observed in all tropical regions of the Earth,” Prof Szulkin explained.

It isn’t yet clear whether these materials are harmful – or perhaps even helpful – for the small, vulnerable crustaceans. “When I first saw these pictures, I felt it was heart-breaking,” Prof Szulkin told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science. “At the same time, I think we really need to understand the fact that we are living in a different era and animals are making use of what is available to them.”