Doors to the Homes: Signal Potential of Red Coloration of Claws in Social Hermit Crabs

C T M Doherty*, M E Laidre*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Synopsis: Red coloration on a signaler's body may be an informative signal in many animals. For species that inhabit architecture (e.g., burrows, nests, or other structures), certain parts of the body are more exposed than others, potentially serving as superior platforms for signaling via coloration. Yet whether animals differentially advertise red coloration on body parts that are more versus less exposed from their architecture remains to be tested. Here, we systematically quantified red coloration in social hermit crabs (Coenobita compressus). These crabs inhabit architecturally remodeled shells and have claws that visibly block the shell entrance, like doors to their homes. We hypothesized that red coloration of claws may be a signal of resource-holding potential (RHP). Consistent with this RHP signaling hypothesis, we found that within the same individuals’ bodies, exposed claws showed significantly greater red coloration than unexposed carapaces. Furthermore, larger body size predicted greater red coloration of claws. Competing hypotheses (e.g., interspecific signaling, camouflage, and UV protection), while not explicitly tested, nevertheless appear unlikely based on natural history. Red claw coloration may therefore function as a signal to conspecifics, and experiments are now needed to test recipient responses. Broadly, relative to surrounding architecture, exposed body surfaces offer rich potential as signaling platforms for coloration.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberobad018
Number of pages9
JournalIntegrative Organismal Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2023
Externally publishedYes


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