Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 492–500 | Cite as

Shell acquisition by hermit crabs: which tactic is more efficient?

  • Elena Tricarico
  • Francesca GherardiEmail author
Original Article


Gastropod shells are limited resources for most hermit crab species, acting as primary factors in various aspects of their biology. To investigate the efficacy of different behavioral tactics adopted for their acquisition (locomotion, attendance at shell-supplying sites, interactions with conspecifics in aggregation) we conducted observations and experiments at a salt marsh in New England (USA). Locomotion, fast and meandering, significantly increased the chances of encountering empty shells and conspecifics. However, shell exchanges were rare. Simulated gastropod predation sites quickly attracted a larger number of hermit crabs than the other shell-supplying sites tested (live and dead conspecifics, live snails) and induced the rapid occupancy of all the empty shells offered, usually by the first crabs arriving at the site. Aggregations seemed not to function as shell exchange markets, as previously suggested for several other species. In the short run, exploitation seems to be more efficient for the acquisition of new shells by Pagurus longicarpus. In the long run, it is the density of nondestructive gastropod predators that regulates the availability of new shells of good quality in the pool available to this hermit crab species.


Resources Locomotion Shell recruitment Gastropod predation sites Hermit crabs Pagurus longicarpus 



The study was made possible by MBL Associates, Ann E. Kammer Memorial Fellowship Fund, H. Keffer Hartline Fellowship Fund, Frank R. Lillie Fund, and Plum Foundation. We thank Prof. Jelle Atema (Boston University Marine Program) for his kind hospitality and enthusiastic support. The experiments comply with the current laws of the USA, the country in which they were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e Genetica “Leo Pardi”FirenzeItaly

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