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Disentangling defense: the function of spiny lobster sounds

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The function of anti-predator signalling is a complex, and often-overlooked, area of animal communication. The goal of this study was to examine the behavioural function of an antipredator acoustic signal in the ocean. We observed the acoustic and defensive behaviours of California spiny lobsters (Palinuridae: Panulirus interruptus) to a model predator, model conspecific and blank pole, both in the tank and in the field. We found that P. interruptus make a 'rasp' sound once physically contacted by an aggressor, rather than during the approach. The model predator and conspecific elicited no discernable changes in defensive behaviour, but the responses by the lobsters to aggressors in the tank versus field were distinct. Our results indicate that the spiny lobster's rasp is used as a startle or aposematic signal, which may be coupled with visual aposematism of their spines. Alternatively, the rasp may function as a vibratory escape mechanism or as an acoustic analogue to eye-spots. This study offers insights into the role of acoustic signalling in the marine environment and demonstrates a central role for sound production in spiny lobster ecology.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA; 2: Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA, Department of Biology, 221 Morrill South, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA;, Email:


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