The power of shell rapping influences rates of eviction in hermit crabs

Mark Briffa, Robert Elwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Hermit crabs fight for ownership of shells, and shell exchange may occur after a period of shell rapping, involving the initiating or attacking crab bringing its shell rapidly and repeatedly into contact with the shell of the noninitiator or defender, in a series of bouts. The temporal pattern of rapping contains information about the motivation and/or relative resource holding potential (RHP) of the initiator and acts as a repeated signal of stamina. Here we investigated the role of the force with which the rapping is performed and how this is related to the temporal pattern of rapping by rubberizing the external surface of shells. Initiators that are prevented from rapping with their usual level of force persist with the activity for longer over the whole encounter but use fewer raps per bout and are less likely to effect an exchange than those supplied with control shells. The fact that the force of rapping affects the likelihood of a crab being victorious suggests that either the force of rapping contains information about motivation or RHP or that force directly affects noninitiators, reducing their ability to maintain an adequate grip on their shells. The data suggest that shell rapping is an agonistic signal rather than one that provides information useful to the noninitiator, as has been suggested by the negotiation model of shell exchange.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-293
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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