image captionScientists reported that hermit crabs may be "sexually excited" by an additive released by plastics in the ocean

Hermit crabs may be "sexually excited" by an additive released by plastics in the ocean, a study has found.

Scientists at the University of Hull discovered a chemical known as oleamide in the waters around Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire.

The compound – a known sex pheromone for certain insect species – increases the respiration rate of hermit crabs, indicating excitement, they said.

The team found that oleamide can also be mistaken for food.

image sourceLoop Images/Getty Imagesimage captionTraces were found in the waters around Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire

The findings come as part of a study looking at the impact of climate change and plastic pollution on marine life.

Paula Schirrmacher, who was part of the research team, said: "Respiration rate increases significantly in response to low concentrations of oleamide, and hermit crabs show a behavioural attraction comparable to their response to a feeding stimulant.

"This research demonstrates that additive leaching may play a significant role in the attraction of marine life to plastic," she added.

The research found that as scavengers, hermit crabs may misidentify oleamide as a food source.

The creatures can also detect smells in acidified oceans, and were attracted to a chemical cue known as PEA (2-phenylethylamine), according to the study.

PEA is known to warn mammals and sea creatures of predators and its effectiveness may be increased in an acidified ocean, researchers said.

Rising sea temperatures, combined with increased plastic pollution, may also confuse the breeding cycles of blue mussels and affect reproduction rates, the study found.

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