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Coordination between the legs and tail during digging and swimming in sand crabs

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Rhythmic leg movements and tailflipping are mutually exclusive behaviours in most decapod crustaceans, but sand crabs (Anomura: Hippoidea) combine leg movements with simultaneous tailflipping or uropod beating for both digging and swimming. We examined the coordination between the legs and tail (abdomen and tailfan) of Blepharipoda occidentalis, Lepidopa californica (Albuneidae), and Emerita analoga (Hippidae). When either albuneid swims, the tail cycles at a higher frequency than the legs, and the two rhythms are not coupled. When albuneids begin digging, the tail's frequency drops to that of the legs, and its rhythm becomes phase coupled to the legs. In E. analoga the legs seldom move during swimming by uropod beating. During digging the frequency of the uropods and fourth legs starts at about double that of the second and third legs, but drops to that of the second and third legs as digging progresses. The fourth legs in E. analoga are coupled with the uropods; their outward movement (= power stroke) is concurrent with the uropod return stroke. The familial differences in leg coordination and in the coordination of the legs and tail account for the smooth descent of E. analoga beneath sand compared to the stepwise descent of the albuneids.

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Accepted: 23 August 1996

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Faulkes, Z., Paul, D. Coordination between the legs and tail during digging and swimming in sand crabs. J Comp Physiol A 180, 161–169 (1997).

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