Homeless Hermit Crabs in Thailand Scramble for Shelter

Large numbers of crustaceans have appeared on a popular beach spot during the pandemic, and there aren't enough shells to go around.
November 12, 2020, 11:45am
thailand hermit crabs
This undated handout photo released by Mu Koh Lanta National Park on November 6, 2020 shows a hermit crab using a broken bottle as its shell along the shore of the national park in Krabi province. PHOTO: MU KOH LANTA NATIONAL PARK / AFP

With tourists gone, tens of thousands of hermit crabs have moved onto normally packed beaches in southern Thailand, triggering a shell shortage and forcing many of the crustaceans to seek refuge in glass bottles and plastic containers.

Hermit crabs do not produce their own shells and have to scavenge for discards from gastropods such as snails and mollusks. But with so many fighting for space, authorities in Mu Koh Lanta National Park put out a public call for seashells to fight the housing crisis.

The park released photos of hermit crabs making do with trash in images they hoped would help bring in donations.

"The reason [we need shells] is because of the surging numbers of hermit crabs, I think tens of thousands," park director Veerasak Srisatjung told Agence France-Presse.

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Goats, deer, bears and other animals have been seen in larger numbers in different locations around the world as coronavirus lockdowns keep humans inside and off the streets.

Something similar appears to be happening in Thailand, according to marine biologist Dr. Thamasak Yeemin, who said the low tourist presence at the beaches in Krabi may have allowed for higher hermit crab survival rates.

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This undated handout photo released by Mu Koh Lanta National Park on Nov. 6, 2020 shows a hermit crab using a broken bottle as its shell along the shore of the national park in Krabi province. Hermit crab numbers in southern Thailand have boomed as foreign tourists have stayed away, so much so that the national park authority appealed on Nov. 6 for the public to donate extra shells for them to live in. PHOTO: MU KOH LANTA NATIONAL PARK / AFP

"The hermit crab can be a good bioindicator for the tourist carrying capacity assessment. We should limit the number of tourists to ensure that our tourism is ecologically friendly," Thamasak told VICE News.

He said the hermit crabs are vulnerable to predators if they fail to find shells.

In another Thai beach hotspot Phuket, sea turtle nests are also making a comeback, with some of the highest numbers in two decades.

Before the pandemic, nearly 40 million people visited the Southeast Asian country every year but the numbers have been almost completely erased after Thailand shut its borders to most international travel months ago. 

In hopes of making up revenue, Thailand has tried to introduce a number of domestic tourism schemes, including the launch of flights over sacred Buddhist sites later this month.