If you've ever bought a pet hermit crab, then you may remember also having to buy several sea shells with it. This is because the crabs don't have shells of their own, and instead have to find empty shells from other creatures and use those. As a hermit crab grows, it'll need to upsize to larger shells, hence the need to supply it with multiple choices. Unfortunately, every empty shell gathered for the pet trade is one less for the wild hermit crabs to move into. In places where the beaches have been picked clean, the crabs have reportedly resorted to using things such as bottles and shotgun shells. That's where Miles Lightwood's Project Shellter comes in - he's hoping to design 3D printed shells for use in the pet industry, and is seeking ideas from interested artists and designers.

Lightwood is an artist in residence at MakerBot Industries, which is known for its Thing-o-Matic home 3D printer kit. An increasing number of hobbyists are buying the kits, to the point that an online community of users has been established, known as Thingiverse.

While Miles has already designed some faux snail shells of his own, he's interested in seeing what other 3D printing enthusiasts can come up with. To that end, he is inviting Thingiverse members to upload their designs, so that MakerBot personnel can print them out and test them on some real live pet crabs - one "crabitat" is located in the company's Brooklyn headquarters, while Lightwood is setting up a second one in Los Angeles.

He is interested in seeing if the crustaceans have any preference for specific materials, shapes, or colors, or if they will even use artificial shells at all. Given that the crabs are already making use of shotgun shells, chances are that fake sea shells should be an easy sell.

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