, Volume 449, Issue 1-3, pp 241-247

Major claws make male fiddler crabs more conspicuous to visual predators: a test using human observers

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One of the possible costs of the male fiddler crabs enlarged claw can be conspicuousness to predators. This hypothesis was tested using human observers as a model of visual predators. In the European fiddler crab, Uca tangeri Eydoux, the males' major claw is white contrasting with the orange-brownish colour of the carapace and of the feeding claw, and the mudflat background. The following morphotypes were created from close-up photographs taken in nature using an image processing software: male, male without claw, female, female with enlarged claw, male with enlarged claw of the same colour of the feeding claw, male with 75% sized claw, male with 50% sized claw. These morphotypes were then presented in a randomised order to students, using a psychology test software, which allows the measurement of response time in msec. The subjects were allowed to look at the images for an unlimited amount of time, until they detected the individual or until they decided to pass on to another image. Backgrounds (i.e. mudflat picture) without individuals were also presented as a control. Male crabs were detected significantly sooner than females. When we compared males with the claw removed with females with an enlarged claw added, the pattern is reversed and the latter are detected significantly faster. Thus, the enlarged claw seems to be the key feature that makes the individuals more conspicuous. Size and colour seem to be the main aspects of the claw's conspicuousness. The data of these experiments support the initial prediction of males being more conspicuous than females because of their enlarged claw. The possible costs and benefits of this trait, related to predation, are discussed.