Journal of Ethology

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 67–74 | Cite as

Eye and clasper damage influence male mating tactics in the horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus

  • Erin E. Duffy
  • Dustin J. Penn
  • Mark L. BottonEmail author
  • H. Jane Brockmann
  • Robert E. Loveland


In the horseshoe crab mating system, mated pairs are frequently accompanied by unattached satellite males as they spawn on intertidal beaches. Previous studies have shown that males locate females visually using their lateral (compound) eyes, and that attached (mated) males generally have less heavily worn or damaged carapaces than unattached males. The purpose of this study was to investigate the influences of lateral eye condition and clasper abnormalities on male mating tactics. Sexually mature males had two kinds of eye damage: deterioration caused by disease, and overgrowth by sessile invertebrates, such as bryozoans, mussels, and tube-building polychaetes. The lateral eyes of attached males had significantly less decay than unattached males. On the other hand, coverage of the lateral eyes by encrusting invertebrates was more extensive among attached than unattached males. Although overgrowth did not appear to impair a male’s ability to pair with a female as severely as eye decay, it is conceivable that amplexus may have occurred before epibiont coverage was sufficient to obscure vision. Male crabs that were experimentally “blindfolded” by painting their lateral eyes with black nail polish were less likely to reattach to a female than controls. Appendage injuries were more frequent among unattached males than among attached males; in particular, 6.4% of unattached males but 0.0% of attached males had damaged claspers (the modified first legs required for amplexus). Unattached males in the population were “older,” as judged by the degree of carapace wear, than attached males. Severe visual impairment and/or clasper damage may explain the reduced pairing success of older male horseshoe crabs, and underlie their choice of the alternative satellite male mating tactics.


Horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus Mating system Alternative mating tactics Limb loss Eye damage 



We thank the late Melanie Meador Penn, Kim Abplanalp, Michelle Levesque, Donna Milligan, Jeanine Beekman, Melissa D‘Angelo, Jack Szczepanski, Jason Standowski, Eric Weissberger, and Erin Vandenberghe, who worked very hard in assisting us in collecting these data. The UF Marine Lab at Seahorse Key and its director Frank Maturo and staff, Henry Coulter and Al Dinsmore provided extensive logistical support. This study was conducted under annual permits from the Lower Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge and its manager Ken Litzenberger who also provided assistance. The project was supported by a National Science Foundation grant to H.J.B., by the University of Florida, Division of Sponsored Research, and by the Florida Foundation. M.L.B. and R.E.L. were supported by the National Sea Grant College Program of the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under NOAA Grant #NARG161047. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of any of these organizations. This is publication NJSG-05-581.


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Copyright information

© Japan Ethological Society and Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin E. Duffy
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dustin J. Penn
    • 3
  • Mark L. Botton
    • 1
    Email author
  • H. Jane Brockmann
    • 4
  • Robert E. Loveland
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Natural SciencesFordham College at Lincoln CenterNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Freudenthal & Elkowitz Consulting Group, Inc.CommackUSA
  3. 3.Konrad Lorenz Institute for EthologyAustrian Academy of SciencesAustria
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  5. 5.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural ResourcesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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