Motivation matters: cheliped extension displays in the hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, are honest signals of hunger

M.E. Laidre, Robert Elwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Whether animal signals convey honest information is a central evolutionary question, since selection pressures could, in some circumstances, favour dishonesty. A prior study of signalling in hermit crabs proposed that the cheliped extension display of Pagurus bernhardus might represent such an instance of dishonesty. A limitation of this conclusion, however, was that honesty was defined in the context of size assessment, neglecting the potential information that displays might transmit about signallers' variable internal states. Recent analyses of signalling in this same species have shown that its displays provide reliable information about the amount of risk crabs are prepared to tolerate, which therefore might enable signallers to use these displays to honestly convey their motivation to take such risks. Here we test this 'honest advertisement of motivation' hypothesis by varying crabs' need for food and analysing their signalling during simulated feeding conflicts against a model. When crabs were starved for 1-5 days, they dropped significantly in weight. Despite this decrement in resource-holding potential and energy reserves, crabs were more likely to perform cheliped extension displays the longer they were food deprived. Longer-starved crabs, whose subjective resource value was greater, also displayed at a higher rate and were more likely to risk seizing the food from the model. We conclude that cheliped extension is a reliable indicator of crabs' internal state and suggest how this honest signal might operate in conflicts over a variety of other resources in addition to food. We propose that future studies detecting apparent dishonesty should analyse many possible signal-state correlations before concluding a signal is actually dishonest. (c) 2008 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2041-2047
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Motivation matters: cheliped extension displays in the hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, are honest signals of hunger'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this