Molting and breeding entail major energetic costs for female crustaceans. However, females of some hermit crabs perform a molt immediately prior to copulation (prenuptial molt). The evolutionary significance of the prenuptial molt was examined in Pagurus hermit crabs, and two hypotheses were tested: (1) prenuptial molt might enhance the success of the present clutch by cleaning the pleopods of females and thereby preventing eggs from being dislodged from the pleopods, and (2) prenuptial molt might function for growth and increase future fecundity at the cost of energetic expenditure on the present brood. Although these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, our results rejected the former hypothesis and supported the latter hypothesis. All four Pagurus species examined showed significant negative relationships between prenuptial molting and continuity of breeding; i.e., they showed high molting frequency after they had a long rest period from breeding. Females of P. minutus increased their size through the prenuptial molt, and showed a decreased clutch size due to the molt. The number of dislodged eggs increased if females molted in P. minutus. These results suggest that hermit crabs undergoing a prenuptial molt might not gain any clear immediate advantage of enhanced survival of eggs in the present clutch, and that the prenuptial molt would mainly contribute to growth.
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We thank all members of the Benthos Group of Laboratory of Marine Biology, Hokkaido University. We are grateful to Dr. S. Goshima, Dr. T. Oba, Dr. C. Norman and two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (no. 15770010 and 17770018) to S. Wada from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. The experiments reported herein comply with the current laws of Japan.
Communicated by S. Nishida.
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Wada, S., Ito, A. & Mima, A. Evolutionary significance of prenuptial molting in female Pagurus hermit crabs. Mar Biol 152, 1263–1270 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-007-0773-2