Most animals live in a delicate ecological balance with their natural surroundings. It’s simply the most efficient formula for survival: Take only what is needed, and waste as little of it as possible. But a few animals take “reduce, reuse, recycle” to the next level. It’s a good thing, too: Someone needs to help clean up the mess that so many humans leave behind. Here’s our list of six animals that are nature’s extreme recyclers.
Perhaps nature’s greatest recyclers are birds. Many urban species have adapted to life in human environments by building their nests with whatever is available, which often includes anything from discarded string and newspapers to paper clips and plastic.
Bowerbirds from New Guinea and Australia, which construct elaborate and garish “bowers” in order to attract mates, will often collect colorful trash (such as bottle caps and plastics) and repurpose it for bower decoration. (In other words, recycling is considered sexy for these birds!)
Birds like pigeons and gulls also take advantage of all the food waste that is left behind by people, gobbling up what they can.
.2. Hermit Crabs
As a crab grows, it must often seek out new shells that provide a better fit. In this way, these cute crustaceans are constantly recycling dwellings that would otherwise go to waste.
Hermit crabs don’t grow their own shells, so to protect themselves they have to salvage shells abandoned by other sea life, usually from sea snails. But really they’ll use whatever they can find, which often includes glass bottles, cans or shotgun shells. People who keep hermit crabs as pets also have the option of providing them with artificial shells, which can be made from recycled materials.
All spiderwebs represent remarkable engineering feats, but few match the eco-friendly design showcased by some orb-weaver spiders. Take for instance the species Cyclosa ginnaga, which decorates its webs with whatever debris it can find, such as leaves and twigs. Though the ultimate purpose of the decoration is rather sinister (for luring in prey, or for concealing the webbing), this spider’s eco-cred is still worth noting.
Many orb-weaver spiders rebuild their nests every day, so they are always busy recycling. This helps keep both their webs and their surrounding environment clean.
.4. Dung Beetles
Many dung beetles are actually referred to as “rollers,” since their waste-collection strategy is to roll excrement into balls so that it can be easily wheeled away.
It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Yes, even poop is too valuable a resource to let go to waste, and perhaps no animal understands this better than the dung beetle. This insect lives to collect and repurpose your poop. Not only do dung beetles build their homes out of feces, but they also eat it and lay their eggs in it.
.5. Octopus / Octopi
Octopi are probably the smartest invertebrates on the planet, and nothing quite displays their cunning as much as their tool use. Several species, such as the veined octopus, have been seen building shelters out of discarded debris. These makeshift homes are built from anything found lying around, from cracked coconut shells, to abandoned sea shells, to glass jars and other containers thrown away as trash. It just goes to show that one creature’s waste is another creature’s treasure.
It has been estimated that 75 percent of all coral reefs around the world are threatened, but there is also reason to hope. Though sensitive to variations in their environment, these animals are also remarkably adaptable in that they are willing to attach themselves to just about any hard surface they can find. This includes shipwrecks, undersea pipelines and even oil rigs. By repurposing wreckage on the sea floor, they also provide habitat for the countless other species that rely on the ecology of coral reefs for sustenance.