Plastic additive oleamide (9-octadecenamide) attracts hermit crabs. Respiration rate increases significantly in response to low concentrations. Oleamide has a striking resemblance to necromone oleic acid, a chemical released by arthropods during decomposition.
Numerous studies have estimated the abundance of plastics in our oceans and warned of its threat to wildlife. However, mechanisms underlying its attractiveness to marine life remain unclear. Though visual similarities to food sources have been suggested, recent studies show that biofouled plastics release dimethyl sulfide which marine fauna mistake for food whilst foraging. Our study shows that the plastic additive oleamide (9-octadecenamide) attracts hermit crabs (Pagurus bernhardus). Respiration rate increases significantly in response to low concentrations of oleamide, and hermit crabs show a behavioral attraction comparable to their response to the feeding stimulant betaine. Oleamide has a striking resemblance to the necromone oleic acid, a chemical released by arthropods during decomposition. As scavengers, hermit crabs may misidentify oleamide as a food source, creating an olfactory trap. As such, our short communication demonstrates that additive leaching may play a significant role in the attraction of marine life to plastic.