In animal contests selection should favour information gathering regarding the likely costs and benefits of continued conflict, and displays may provide a means for contestants to gain information about the fighting ability or aggressive intent of competitors. However, there is debate over the reliability of such displays and low levels of deception may occur within otherwise honest signalling systems. Hermit crabs use displays involving the chelipeds during agonistic encounters. We examined how variation in chelae size in relation to body size, a determinant of fighting ability, affects their use in displays and the process and outcome of contests over gastropod shells. In accordance with deceptive use of an otherwise honest signal, we found that contestants with large chelipeds for their body size spent more time performing the cheliped presentation display. Moreover, cheliped residuals and displays influenced the escalation level of encounters. There was a positive association between cheliped displays and the occurrence of 'grappling', but a negative association between displays and the occurrence of shell fights, suggesting that displays may signal aggressive intent and a reluctance to back off or accept the more passive defender role in a fight. Furthermore, the smaller of the two contestants in shell fights had larger cheliped residuals compared to those smaller contestants not involved in shell fights, which is consistent with disrupted opponent assessment. This study adds to mounting evidence that when acting as a signaller, individuals for whom the display exaggerates competitive ability attempt to manipulate opponents, using the display more often. (C) 2009 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics