Standing on the Shells of Giants

This is one of several guest posts I’ll be making during the Project Shellter residency.

While Project Shellter is new, it did not emerge from a vacuum. Exploration into the mathematics of sea shells dates back decades, and the desire to help out hermit crabs, years. Project Shellter benefits from these investigations and innovations.

In chronological order, here is a partial list of precedents that inform the project.


Computer as Aid in Describing Form in Gastropod Shells

In the 1960s, interest in the beauty and mathematics of sea shells held the attention of computer graphics pioneers. One of the first to publish his findings was David M. Raup. His landmark papers have informed generations of researchers since, serving as canonical references within the fields of both biological and computer science.

Alternative Material

Glass blowers have created shells that are beautiful and photogenic. However, due to cost and the rambunctious nature of happy healthy hermit crabs – a broken shell could be fatal – glass shells are a seldom-used novelty. This image by photographer Frank Greenaway was created in 2004.

Alternative Design

Photo credit

In 2005, Dr. Elizabeth Demaray and a group of engineering students at Rutgers University explored alternative hermit crab shell designs. The Hand Up Project was the culmination of their research and it was the first project to use rapid prototyping materials and processes to manufacture hermit crab shells.

Project Shellter

Project Shellter Shell Prototype 01
Photo credit

Building on these and other precedents, Project Shellter aims to engage the community of 3D printer operators to crowd-source the science and resources necessary to design and manufacture viable hermit crab shells for domestic use. The goal is to reduce harvesting of natural shells as a way to address shortages in the wild.

It is an open source, pragmatic, social investigation into hermit crab behavior as a means to create 3D printable shells. The public nature of the project is designed to encourage simultaneous investigations.

The first prototype shell model has been placed in the public domain and is available now.

Project Shellter is social! Follow, share and contribute to help save hermit crabs by keeping natural shells in the wild!


For those wishing to dig deeper, here is a partial bibliography of research informing Project Shellter.

Computer as Aid in Describing Form in Gastropod Shells 

Geometric Analysis of Shell Coiling: General Problems

Population Consequences of Shell Utilization by Hermit Crabs

Competition and Mechanism of Coexistence in Three Sympatric of Intertidal Hermit Crabs

Modeling Seashells

Hermit Crab Shell Design

Shell-selection behavior of the hermit crab Pagurus granosimanus in Relation to Isolation, Competition, and Predation