Motivational change during shell fights in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus

Mark Briffa, Robert Elwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


During agonistic interactions the motivation of each contestant is expected to vary because of increased information and changes in fighting ability. In shell fights between hermit crabs over gastropod shells, attackers rap their shell in a series of bouts against that of the defender whereas defenders remain withdrawn into their shells until the encounter is resolved; either the defender is evicted from its shell or the attacker 'gives up' and the defender retains its shell. We assessed the motivational state of attackers for performing rapping by measuring the duration of startle responses elicited by a novel stimulus. We staged fights between pairs of crabs in six different groups defined by the potential gain in shell quality available to attackers (high or low) and by the point at which the novel stimulus was applied (prior to rapping, after one bout or after four bouts). Startle response duration decreased during the first four bouts of fighting and showed a U-shaped relationship with the relative difference in size between the crabs. There was, no difference in startle response duration between high- and low-gain groups. Individuals showing short startle responses were likely to be victorious and we conclude that the relationship between the relative size difference of the opponents and. startle duration reflects that between size difference and the cost of gaining an eviction. (C) 2001 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-510
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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