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Size assessment via a visual signal in snapping shrimp


Snapping shrimp are highly aggressive decapod crustaceans, with large, asymmetric chelae. Body size determines the outcome of both inter- and intrasexual interactions. Both the body and chela sizes of mated pairs are correlated, but the body size correlation is significantly stronger. In competitive interactions between individuals of the same sex, larger individuals usually win. Because the size of the major chela is a function of body size in both males and females, chela size could be used to assess body size early in interactions, before engaging in more high risk behaviors. To determine whether the major chela is used in size assessment, I presented shrimp with isolated chelae. Male snapping shrimp responded aggressively to isolated chelae when they were fixed open in a display posture, and the degree of aggressive response depended on the relative size of the chela. These data provide direct experimental evidence for the use of a visual signal in size assessment. Females, in contrast, responded aggressively to both the open and closed chela, and their responses did not depend on relative size. This sex difference in response may be due to differences in the value of certain resources, such as shelters, to males and females: females may be more willing to respond aggressively regardless of the apparent size of their opponent, in order to acquire more reliable information regarding size, motivation or fighting ability.

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Received: 30 December 1994/Accepted after revision: 14 August 1995

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Hughes, M. Size assessment via a visual signal in snapping shrimp. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 38, 51–57 (1996).

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  • Key words Visual signals
  • Size assessment
  • Sex differences
  • Snapping shrimp