Transformation: WILD ART 2021

As part of the Wild Art 2021 December Challenge, put on by Zoe Keller, I illustrated two pieces focusing on the theme, “Transformation”. Each month, I will focus on two pieces – one highlighting flora, the other highlighting fauna. This month, the first is an animal that has the unique ability to swap out the shelters it lives in whenever it outgrows them: The Hermit Crab! The second is a plant with a colorful adaptation to communicate to it’s pollinators, “Hey, this floret has already been pollinated!” Both of these transformations, whether in color or shell type, are adaptations that aid in survival.

Transformation to Protect

hermit crab transformation

First, we have the delightful little hermit crab, who transforms it’s home once it has outgrown it’s current home.

Hermit crab shells do not grow over time, like the Chambered Nautilus does. As the crab ages, it outgrows it’s tight shell and leaves it’s home. It discards the old shell once it finds a new, larger shell. These shells do not have to be crab shells; any specie’s shell, as long as the crab can wriggle inside, will do!

Occasionally, a hermit crab finds something to live in that’s not even a shell. As plastic pollution becomes more prevalent in marine environments, hermit crabs find new items to live in! These little crabs were documented living in broken bottles, soda cans, laundry detergent caps, tin cans, and even broken old tennis balls! While this seems like a clever use of plastic debris, this can actually hurt the crab. Not only are some edges sharp and rusty, which can cause lesions on the crab, but chemicals from the plastic leech out into the crab! These chemicals can cause hyperactivity in crabs, and they die from exhaustion and lack of nutrition to fuel their energy.

Transformation to Communicate

Second, we have a flower who changes it’s appearance to communicate to insect and bird populations!

The Lantana (Lantana camara) are vibrant flowers that grow in clusters. You can find cultivars that have yellow and pink flowers, or red and orange flowers, or are all one color! You may notice that over time, after the flowers have bloomed, that they change colors.

Many pollinators love the color yellow and it signifies, “Hello! I have yet to be pollinated!” As the flowers become pollinated, they produce a anthocyanin (red) pigments to saturate the petals. They then fade to a less attractive color so pollinators don’t waste time visiting already-pollinated blooms.

Why Go Through the Hassle of Transformation?

In order to survive, animals and plants adapt. Hermit crab’s organs would outgrow their stunted bodies if they lived in a shell that’s too small! Pollinators would waste precious energy visiting unnecessary flowers, and the Lantana would be pollinated too slowly to efficiently disperse it’s seeds.

To help protect both plants and animals that go through transformation, you can start by not bringing whole shells home from beach trips. As shells are removed from habitats, hermit crabs have no choice but to scavenge for inappropriate homes. Take pictures as keepsakes or search for broken shells that would no longer be suitable for hermit crabs to move into. You can also help pollinators by planting more native plants in your garden and community!

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