Honest and dishonest displays, motivational state and subsequent decisions in hermit crab shell fights

Robert Elwood, Rose Marie Pothanikat, Mark Briffa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Animal fights are typically preceded by displays and there is debate whether these are always honest. We investigated the prefight period in hermit crabs, Pagurus bernhardus, during which up to four types of display plus other activities that might provide information are performed. We determined how each display influences or predicts various fight decisions, and related these displays to the motivational state of the attacker, as determined by a startle response, and of the motivational state of the defender, as determined by the duration for which it resisted eviction from its shell. Two displays appeared to have consistent but different effects. Cheliped presentation, where the claws were held in a stationary position, often by both crabs but for longer by the larger, seemed to be honest, and allowed for mutual size assessment. This display enhanced the motivation and the success of the larger crab. In contrast, cheliped extension, involving the rapid thrust of the open chelae towards the opponent, did not seem to allow for mutual size assessment and may contain an element of bluff. It was performed more by the smaller crab and enhanced its success. The complexity of displays in this species appears to allow for both honesty and manipulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-859
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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