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Size Assessment and Cues: Studies of Hermit Crab Contests

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The agonistic behaviour of pairs of hermit crabs (Pagurus bernhardus) was observed in the laboratory. It was found that relative size was a reliable predictor of the outcome of a contest only when the crabs differed by at least 100% in weight. However, weight differences of 10 to 30% could be sufficient to cause differences in behaviour. It was concluded from this that whereas crabs can accurately assess small differences in weight, these differences may not be sufficient to reliably determine the outcome of contests. Other factors affecting RHP are relevant at intermediate size differences. Two possible cues for size assessment were tested: the size of the major cheliped and the size of the opponent's shell. The presence and size of the major cheliped were found to have a strong effect on contest initiation and outcome, and therefore this is likely to be a cue used in RHP assessment. The major cheliped was also found to play an important part in defensive behaviour, crabs lacking this appendage being less successful in defending their shells from attack. However, the apparent size of the opponent's shell did not seem to affect the initiation or outcome of contests. Thus it seems that crabs assess their opponents independently of the shells they occupy. It is concluded that large size differences are sufficient to decide contests. For smaller size differences other factors of RHP are important, and can override size differences. There is no evidence indicating that the defending crab can assess the quality of its oppo- nent's shell and make contest decisions based on this evidence. These data do not support the negotiation hypothesis.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast BT7 INN, Northern Ireland


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