Metabolic consequences of shell choice in Pagurus bernhardus: do hermit crabs prefer cryptic or portable shells?


Hermit crabs are unique among crustaceans in that they choose their shell and can, therefore, be used to investigate apparent preferences for the presence of epizoic fauna. These may be beneficial due to increased protection from predators via enhanced crypsis but may also make the shell more difficult to carry. The effects of encrusting fauna on the physical properties of empty gastropod shells, the shell preferences of hermit crabs and the physiological costs of shell carrying were examined in the present laboratory study. Heavily encrusted shells weighed more than shells of the same internal volume that were free of epizoic fauna, hermit crabs showed a clear preference for un-encrusted shells and those that occupied encrusted shells had elevated haemolymph lactate in comparison to those supplied with un-encrusted shells. Under laboratory conditions, any benefit from increased crypsis is, therefore, outbalanced by the increased costs of carrying encrusted shells.

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We are grateful to three anonymous referees for their comments on the manuscript and to Jon Russ for his comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This work was funded by the UK BBSRC

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Correspondence to Mark Briffa.

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Communicated by P. Backwell

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Briffa, M., Elwood, R.W. Metabolic consequences of shell choice in Pagurus bernhardus: do hermit crabs prefer cryptic or portable shells?. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59, 143–148 (2005).

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  • Hermit Crab
  • Internal Volume
  • Lactic Acid Concentration
  • Shell Type
  • Food Odour