pp 1–5 | Cite as

To see or to smell: the role of vision in host-recognition by an ectoparasitic crab

  • Quentin JossartEmail author
  • Lucas Terrana
  • Chantal De Ridder
  • Igor Eeckhaut
  • Daniel Monteyne
  • Guillaume Caulier
Short Communications


Crustaceans are associated with a wide diversity of hosts, using both chemical and visual cues to recognize them. The pea crab Dissodactylus primitivus is an ectoparasite of two species of irregular echinoids living in the Caribbean Sea. Previous studies showed that the crab chemically discriminates its hosts from non-host species. The possibility that the parasite also visually localizes its host was investigated here through behavioral and morphological approaches. The responses of the parasite to visual cues were investigated in aquaria and show a limited visual ability, leading to sheltering rather than to host localization. This suggests that visual cues are not required to maintain the specificity of the parasitism. Microscopical investigations corroborate this conclusion by revealing a pair of small compound eyes mainly localized under the cephalothorax. The ommatidia (facets) were only found on the covered surface (below the cuticle). Interestingly, a lot of setae were observed around or even directly on the eye and might participate in the overall chemical detection.


Parasitism Visual recognition Pinnotheridae Echinoids Behavior Eye 



We are grateful to the staff of the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory for providing accommodation and laboratory facilities and to the National Environment & Planning Agency of Jamaica (NEPA) for the research permit. Research was supported by an FNRS-FRFC (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique) research grant (Symbioses – T.0056.13) and by two Agathon De Potter travel grants (“Académie royale de Belgique”) to Quentin Jossart and Guillaume Caulier. We thank Emma Palacios Theil, Jérôme Delroisse and Magnus Lindström for their helpful advices.

Author contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: QJ, LT, CDR, GC. Performed the experiments: QJ, LT, DM, GC. Analyzed the data: QJ, LT, CDR, GC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: CDR, IE. Wrote the paper: QJ, LT, CDR, IE, DM, GC.


  1. Alves DFR, Hirose GL, Barros-Alves SP, Baeza JA (2017) The mating system of the symbiotic pea-crab Dissodactylus crinitichelis (Brachyura, Pinnotheridae): monogamy or promiscuity? Mar Biol 164:200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baeza JA (2015) Crustaceans as symbionts: an overview of their diversity, host use and life styles. The life styles and feeding biology of the Crustacea. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 163–189Google Scholar
  3. Baeza J, Thiel M (2007) The mating system of symbiotic crustaceans. A conceptual model based on optimality and ecological constraints. Evolutionary ecology of social and sexual systems: crustaceans as model organisms. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 250–267Google Scholar
  4. Baeza JA, Simpson L, Ambrosio LJ, Guéron R, Mora N (2016) Monogamy in a hyper-symbiotic shrimp. PLoS One 11:e0149797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Caulier G, Flammang P, Gerbaux P, Eeckhaut I (2013) When a repellent becomes an attractant: harmful saponins are kairomones attracting the symbiotic harlequin crab. Sci Rep 3:2639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chesher RH (1969) Contributions to the biology of Meoma ventricosa (Echinoidea: Spatangoida). B Mar Sci 19:72–110Google Scholar
  7. De Bruyn C, Rigaud T, David B, De Ridder C (2009) Symbiosis between the pea crab Dissodactylus primitivus and its echinoid host Meoma ventricosa: potential consequences for the crab mating system. Mar Ecol P Series 375:173–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De Bruyn C, David B, De Ridder C, Rigaud T (2010) Asymmetric exploitation of two echinoid host species by a parasitic pea crab and its consequences for the parasitic life cycle. Mar Ecol P Series 398:183–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Bruyn C, De Ridder C, Rigaud T, David B (2011) Chemical host detection and differential attraction in a parasitic pea crab infecting two echinoids. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 397:173–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. De Bruyn C, David B, Motreuil S, Caulier G, Jossart Q, Rigaud T, De Ridder C (2016) Should I stay or should I go? Causes and dynamics of host desertion by a parasitic crab living on echinoids. Mar Ecol P Series 546:163–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Griffith H (1987) Phylogenetic relationships and evolution in the genus Dissodactylus Smith, 1870 (Crustacea: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae). Can J Zool 65(9): 2292-2310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hammer Ø, Harper DA, Ryan PD (2001) PAST: paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. Palaeontol Electron 4:9Google Scholar
  13. Hendrickx ME (1990) Range extension and host record for Dissodactylus ususfructus Griffith, 1987 (Crustacea: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae). P Biol Soc Wash 103:106–107Google Scholar
  14. Hendrickx ME, Solis F (2013) New record of Clypeasterophilus stebbingi (Rathbun, 1918) (Decapoda: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae) from the east coast of Nicaragua. Nauplius 21:205–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hiller-Adams P, Case JF (1985) Optical parameters of the eyes of some benthic decapods as a function of habitat depth (Crustacea, Decapoda). Zoomorphology 105:108–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jossart Q, David B, De Bruyn C, De Ridder C, Rigaud T, Wattier RA (2013) No evidence of host specialization in a parasitic pea-crab exploiting two echinoid hosts. Mar Ecol P Series 475:167–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jossart Q, De Ridder C, Lessios HA, Bauwens M, Motreuil S, Rigaud T, Wattier RA, David B (2017) Highly contrasted population genetic structures in a host–parasite pair in the Caribbean Sea. Ecol Evol 7:9267–9280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Klaus S, Mendoza JC, Liew JH, Plath M, Meier R, Yeo DC (2013) Rapid evolution of troglomorphic characters suggests selection rather than neutral mutation as a driver of eye reduction in cave crabs. Biol Lett 9(2):20121098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lima SF, Queiroz V, Bravo de Laguna IH, Mioso R (2014) New host for Dissodactylus crinitichelis (Decapoda, Pinnotheridae): first record of occurrence on Mellita quinquiesperforata (Echinodermata, Echinoidea)(Decapoda; Echinodermata). Spixiana 37:61–68Google Scholar
  20. Martinelli Filho JE, dos Santos RB, Ribeiro CC (2014) Host selection, host-use pattern and competition in Dissodactylus crinitichelis and Clypeasterophilus stebbingi (Brachyura: Pinnotheridae). Symbiosis 63:99–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mejia-Ortiz LM, Hartnoll RG (2006) A new use for useless eyes in cave crustaceans. Crustaceana 79(5):593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Narum SR (2006) Beyond Bonferroni: less conservative analyses for conservation genetics. Conserv Genet 7(5):783–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Palacios-Theil E, Cuesta JA, Campos E, Felder DL (2009) Molecular genetic re-examination of subfamilies and polyphyly in the family Pinnotheridae (Crustacea: Decapoda). Decapod Crustacean Phylogenetics 18:457–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Reeves MN, Brooke WR (2001) Host selection, chemical detection, and protection of the symbiotic pinnotherid crabs Dissodactylus crinitichelis and Clypeasterophilus rugatus associated with echinoderms. Symbiosis 30:239–266Google Scholar
  25. Rétaux S, Casane D (2013) Evolution of eye development in the darkness of caves: adaptation, drift, or both? EvoDevo 4(1):26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ross D, Vernberg F, Vernberg W (1983) Symbiotic relations. Behav Ecol 7:163–212Google Scholar
  27. Sikkel PC, Sears WT, Weldon B, Tuttle BC (2011) An experimental field test of host-finding mechanisms in a Caribbean gnathiid isopod. Mar Biol 158:1075–1083CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Souza J, Barroso D, Hirose GL (2019) Chemical recognition in the symbiotic pea crab Dissodactylus crinitichelis (Crustacea: Decapoda: Pinnotheridae): host and conspecific cues. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 511:108–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Telford M (1982) Echinoderm spine structure, feeding and host relationships of four species of Dissodactylus (Brachyura: Pinnotheridae). B Mar Sci 32:584–594Google Scholar
  30. Thiel M, Baeza JA (2001) Factors affecting the social behaviour of crustaceans living symbiotically with other marine invertebrates: a modelling approach. Symbiosis 30:163–190Google Scholar
  31. VandenSpiegel D, Eeckhaut I, Jangoux M (1998) Host selection by Synalpheus stimpsoni (De man), an ectosymbiotic shrimp of comatulid crinoids, inferred by a field survey and laboratory experiments. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 225:185–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Williamson JE, Gleeson C, Bell JE, Vaïtilingon D (2012) The role of visual and chemical cues in host detection by the symbiotic shrimp Gnathophylloides mineri. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 414:38–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Biologie Marine (CP 160/15)Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)BrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Laboratoire de Biologie des Organismes Marins et BiomimétismeUniversité de Mons (UMONS)MonsBelgium
  3. 3.Laboratoire de Parasitologie Moléculaire (CP300), IBMMUniversité Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)GosseliesBelgium
  4. 4.Center for Microscopy and Molecular Imaging (CMMI)GosseliesBelgium

Personalised recommendations