It's hard not to fall for MakerBot's Project Shellter, the crowd-sourced campaign that seeks to create new 3D printable shells for use by homeless hermit crabs. A shortage in vacant shells on the ocean floor has left many crabs vulnerable to the dangers of the sea; desperate crabs have resorted to pilfering the depths for articles of trash, plastic cups and even broken beer bottles for make-shift coats.
When we first wrote about the project in October, the first designs had been uploaded to Thingiverse but had yet to be tested. Since then several other designs have been posted in every color and form, from idealized Fibonacci nautilus numbers to more bespoke models, including one shaped like an anglerfish that cloaks the crab in, uh, wolves clothing. But the team has finally found success! Just look how snug that little guy looks!
As of now, three hermit crabs have adopted 3D printed shells--no easy feat according to Dr. Katherine Bulinski, the project's hermit crab researcher who devised the shell assessment guidelines to systematically judge the functional criteria of the custom designs. A shell's overall dimensions should closely resemble those of gastropods found in the wild, while the aperture size of each shell should not be too large so as to provide the crab with a sense of security or too small, preventing different sized crabs from settling in. Shells should not be too heavy, which would necessitate a greater expenditure of energy by the occupying crab, yet they should be sturdy enough to withstand predator bombardments. And so on.
The team has made it a priority to develop a proper printing material that proves both durable and environmental-friendly. Until it does so, however, they advise that pet owners opt for 3D print variants which would minimize the mining of natural shells by collectors and companies.
There's still work to be done, and Project Shellter is calling on those with 3D modeling skills and 3D printers or with pet hermit crabs to volunteer their time to the cause. Find all the ways you can help here.