I had a couple of pet hermit crabs when I was a kid, which were just about the awesome-est pets that a preteen boy could want: They’re friendly, they’re alien-looking, they make moms and sisters squeal. But they were also strangely fickle about the shells they chose as their homes. As my pet crabs grew, they’d inevitably need to switch to bigger "RV’s," but the shells I offered them weren’t ever good enough. Eventually they’d just burrow into the sand in my terrarium and die. Which makes me wonder: if I’d had access to a 3-D printer and some CAD software, could I have iterated a design that would have done the trick? That’s what Project Shellter is all about: using DIY 3-D printers and crowdsourced design to offer domestic hermit crabs a wider selection of custom shells.
Project Shellter has some quasi-scientific goals, as well--since hermit crabs are known to co-opt everything from bottlecaps to shotgun shells, creator Miles Lightwood (who initiated the project as an artist-in-residence at MakerBot) is curious to know if 3-D printed shells will even appeal to them at all. Bre Pettis also cites a worldwide "shell shortage" as one motive for augmenting the crustaceans’ selection of living arrangements. (Don’t worry, the project isn’t meant to strew the oceans and beaches with even more human-generated trash, even for a good cause--Project Shellter shells are intended for home use only.)
Lightwood is setting up "crabitats" in Brooklyn and Los Angeles to lab-test the community’s shell designs with real hermit crabs, which you can track here or by visiting the project’s Facebook page. I suspect we mere humans won’t be able to improve much on Mother Nature’s designs, but it’s a fascinating exercise nonetheless.
[Top image by Jim Snapper]