New Deep Sea Hermit Crabs Have Super Weird Homes

Most hermit crabs live their lives in an endless episode of House Hunters, switching from one shell to the next. A newly discovered species of hermit crab, however, chooses to live in an unusual abode that’s actually also alive. Together, the home and its crustacean tenant live in a symbiotic relationships that appears to be infinitely less stressful than any show on 9Life.

Image: Jannes Landschoff

Dr. Lara Atkinson, who helped discover Paragiopagurus atkinsonae. (Image: Kerry Sink)

This tiny deep sea dweller, just 70mm in length, is called Paragiopagurus atkinsonae, or the “green-eyed hermit crab”. While on a trawling boat back in 2013, a team of researchers discovered the crab off the west coast of South Africa, living at depths between 199 and 277m. The green-eyed hermit, which hails from Parapaguridae — one of the six major hermit crab families — is aesthetically distinct with its orange colour and dramatic sexual dimorphism evidenced by the males’ large right claw.

But what’s most unique about these crawlies is that they do not live in calcified “homes” like other hermit crabs. Instead of opting for some sort of mollusc, the green-eyed hermit lives in a soft mass of sand and material created by colonies of sea anemones that actually live on the hermit crab. It’s like many tenants sharing the same gooey home, or the weirdest episode of MTV Cribs.

“So, when you hold [the hermit crab], it’s just organic material glued together with some sand,” Jannes Landschoff, a PhD at and co-author on the study, said in a statement.

“Even more curiously, parapagurids start off in the usual way, occupying a tiny gastropod shell,” Landschoff said. “But these eventually become deposited within this non-calcified ‘amalgam’ created by the anemones. As the hermit crab grows, its live ‘shell’, or carcinoecia, grows with it.”

Image: Jannes Landschoff

Image: Jannes Landschoff

The green-eyed hermit appears to only live in this very specific location off the western coast of South Africa, which is also a prominent location for underwater diamond mining. The team hopes doing more research in this region and will contribute to future conservation efforts so that the green-eyed hermit and all its weirdo friends can live long, happy lives.