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ABSTRACT Control of egg-hatching time was investigated in the crabs Neopanope sayi, Uca pugilator, and Sesarma cinereum, which occupy a gradient in adult habitats from sublittoral to supralittoral zones, respectively. Hatching time was monitored in the laboratory for eggs attached to females and for eggs removed several hours prior to eclosion. Embryos of all species hatched into larvae swimming independently of the female; however, those of U. pugilator and S. cinereum hatched several hours later and with lower viability than attached eggs. Mean hatching times of attached and detached eggs were correlated for N. sayi, but not for U. pugilator or S. cinereum. These results strongly imply that the embryos are the principal controllers of hatching time in N. sayi but not in U. pugilator or S. cinereum. For all species, removed eggs hatched over a longer time interval than attached eggs, indicating that the female is responsible for the synchrony of release. Increases in the readiness of attached eggs to hatch prior to actual time of larval release were relatively moderate in N. sayi, but more rapid and dramatic for U. pugilator and S. cinereum. These changes are likely the result of enzymatic degradation of the egg membranes. We postulate that, for N. sayi, enzyme release is controlled by rhythms in the embryos, but, for U. pugilator and S. cinereum, females signal the embryos to release enzymes, resulting in rapid degradation of the membranes. Selection for control of larval release time by the female may be especially important in terrestrial and semiterrestrial crabs.


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