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Jonah Soltes

Biology 205L
Tuesday, 1:00PM

Effects of Conspecifics and Shell Cues on Aggregation in the


Hermit Crab Pagurus Samuelis

Introduction
Many factors influence the decisions that hermit crabs make. An important factor is
chemical cues which, in marine animals, are released by conspecifics and can cause aggregation
in a given species (Briones-Fourzan et al., 2008). Aggregation cues cause animals to gravitate
towards the source of the cue. For hermit crabs, these aggregation cues could come from other
hermit crabs (Bartmess-LeVasseur & Freeberg, 2015), food sources (Billock & Dunbar, 2011), or
shells (Turra & Gorman, 2014), among others.
Hermit crabs are generally found in coastal environments, specifically the intertidal zone
(Gherardi & Nardone, 1997), which can be subjected to harsh conditions such as storms or
floods (Turra & Gorman, 2014). Pagurus samuelis, more commonly known as the Blueband
hermit crab, is a major constituent of the intertidal zone and is very common along the coast of
California (Bartmess-LeVasseur & Freeberg, 2015). P. samuelis is a very social species and will
therefore seek the company of other hermit crabs (Bartmess-LeVasseur & Freeberg, 2015).
Another hermit crab, Clibanarius vittatus, has been seen responding to cues emanating from
gastropod shells (Hazlett & Rittschof, 2005). The shells that P. samuelis use for shelter come

from the gastropod sea-snail, Tegula, and have thus been seen to be attracted to them (Billock &
Dunbar, 2011).
We ran our experiments to determine the effect of stimuli emanating from conspecific
hermit crabs and Tegula shells on P. samuelis. We hypothesized that (1) individuals would be
attracted to conspecific hermit crabs over a control solution, (2) individuals would be attracted to
Tegula shells over a control solution, and (3) individuals would show no preference to
conspecific hermit crabs and Tegula shells. Being a social species, P. samuelis should be
attracted to conspecific crabs. Because hermit crabs must often replace their shells (Gherardi &
Nardone, 1997), there should be a significant attraction to the shells as well. If the crabs are
equally attracted to both stimuli, then we should expect to see no preference between the two.

Methods
The Pagurus samuelis hermit crabs used in the experiment were collected from the
intertidal zone at Corona del Mar, CA. They were then brought to the lab room and kept in
captivity for over a week prior to the experiment. They were held in a tank filled with artificial
sea water containing Tegula shells at 17C. The crabs were also not given any food during their
time in captivity.
For our experiment, we utilized a plastic Y-maze apparatus with a width of 4 cm. The
maze forked off at a 90 angle and was propped up at a 15 angle. Two burets were positioned
above the ends of each arm to supply the artificial seawater (Fig. 1). Artificial seawater, or ASW,
was made with tap water and sea salt, having a salinity of 33-34 parts per thousand. A plastic cup
was also placed in the maze as a barrier to prevent the crabs from going the wrong way.

Figure 1: Diagram of the Y-maze used in all


experiments.

We then took 50 crabs (n=50) from the holding tank and placed them in plastic cups
before beginning the experiment. For each run, we decided to place the test hermit crab 2 cm
away from the choice point (Fig. 1). The ASW was then dripped down each arm of the Y-maze at
a constant rate of 20mL per minute. Each crab was given 1 minute to make their choice. We
decided that in order for it to count as a choice, each hermit crab had to move at least 5 cm up an
arm of the Y-maze (Fig. 1).
If a crab did not make a choice within 1 minute, it was put back and replaced with a new
crab. After each run, the choice was recorded in a table and the crab was put back in its cup.
Then we cleaned the maze with ethanol and DI water and dried with paper towels to remove the
smell of the other hermit crabs. The barrier was also cleaned with ethanol and DI water. Used
hermit crabs were put in a separate container in the holding tank to prevent any one crab from
being used twice.

Test for Left-Right Bias


Before running the main experiment, we ran a control test to determine whether the
hermit crabs had a bias towards left or right. We ran 50 trials, running plain ASW down both
arms of the Y-maze. The choices of left or right were recorded in a table and we used a
two-tail P value test for statistical analysis.
Effect of Conspecifics and Tegula shells on arm choice
We ran 3 separate trials of 50 crabs each to determine the effect of conspecific hermit
crabs and Tegula shells on arm choice. In trial 1, we tested conspecific hermit crabs against
ASW. In one arm, ASW was dripped through a colander (Fig. 1) containing 3 hermit crabs
(stimulus) and in the other, ASW was dripped through an empty colander (control). In trial 2, we
tested Tegula shells against ASW. One arm contained 3 shells (stimulus) and the other was only
ASW (control). In trial 3, we tested conspecific hermit crabs against Tegula shells. One arm
contained 3 crabs and the other had 3 shells. For all three trials, we switched the side of the
stimulus every 5 runs to correct for side bias. After all trials, data was recorded in a table and a
two-tailed P test was used for statistical analysis.

Results
Test for Left-Right Bias
The Pagurus samuelis hermit crabs (n=50) showed no bias towards left or right as shown
by 20 crabs choosing left and 30 choosing right (P=0.2026, Two-tailed P test, Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Control test for Left-Right bias in Pagurus samuelis. N=50 hermit crabs were
run through Y-maze. No significant preference was found.

Attraction to Conspecific hermit crabs or ASW


The hermit crabs showed no significant preference towards either conspecific hermit
crabs or ASW. Of the 50 hermit crabs used, 31 crabs chose the arm with other hermit crabs and
19 chose the arm with only ASW (P=0.1189, Two-tailed P test, Fig. 3).
Attraction to Tegula shells or ASW
The hermit crabs showed no significant preference toward either the Tegula shells or
ASW. Of the 50 hermit crabs used, 26 crabs chose the arm with the shells and 24 chose the arm
with only ASW (P=0.8877, Two-tailed P test, Fig.3).
Attraction to Conspecific hermit crabs or Tegula shells
The hermit crabs showed no significant preference toward either the other hermit crabs or
the Tegula shells. Of the 50 hermit crabs used, 27 crabs chose the arm with other hermit crabs
and 23 chose the arm with the shells (P=0.6718, Two-tailed P test, Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Results of experiment testing attraction to conspecific hermit crabs and Tegula shells. Hermit crabs were
given a choice between two stimuli run down each arm of the Y-maze (e.g. Hermit Crab or ASW in the first test).
The stimuli were delivered by dripping ASW through a colander containing 3 hermit crabs or 3 shells. ASW stands
for artificial sea water, which was used as a control solution. N=50 for all tests.

Discussion
Individuals of Pagurus samuelis showed no significant preference towards arms of the
Y-maze containing conspecific hermit crabs or Tegula shells. Our hypothesis that the hermit
crabs would be more attracted to other hermit crabs or shells over ASW was not supported by the
results. As expected, the hermit crabs showed no preference between other crabs and shells. A
study run by Bartmess-LeVasseur & Freeberg (2015) found that individuals of P. samuelis are
more inclined to seek out conspecifics after a prolonged isolation period, as opposed to our study
where the crabs were not isolated for very long. Billock & Dunbar (2011) found that P. samuelis
respond more strongly to visual cues of shells than to just chemical ones.
A limitation of this study is not enough data for the trial comparing conspecific hermit
crabs and ASW. With the lowest P value (P=0.1189), we have reason to believe that further tests
are required to better understand the level of attraction towards conspecifics. Another limitation
was that we did not know what life stage our hermit crabs were in, specifically if they needed a

new shell, as this could have effected our results. These results indicate that P. samuelis are not
significantly attracted to conspecifics or Tegula shells under our conditions. The hermit crabs did
not have an increased aggregation response to conspecifics likely because the isolation time was
not long enough to stimulate that response (Bartmess-LeVasseur & Freeberg, 2015). The hermit
crabs were not significantly attracted to the shells because they have been found to respond more
strongly to visual cues over chemical ones (Billock & Dunbar, 2011).
This is significant to understand the behaviors of hermit crabs when they are in groups
and have no visual contact with shells. Under these conditions, hermit crabs should show no
increased aggregation responses. Because our experiment tested a very narrow set of conditions
that yielded narrow results, it would be beneficial to study P. samuelis under a modified set of
conditions. For a future study, we would like to test attraction of male hermit crabs towards
females and visible shells. It would be interesting to determine which survival instincts are more
prevalent in hermit crabs, protection or reproduction.

References
Bartmess-LeVasseur, J. N., & Freeberg, T. M. (2015). Isolation increases time to emerge
from shells in two Coenobita hermit crab species. Acta Ethologica, 18(2), 221-225.
Billock, W. L., & Dunbar, S. G. (2011). Shell and food acquisition behaviors: Evidence
for Contextual Decision Hierarchies in hermit crabs. Journal Of Experimental Marine Biology
And Ecology, 39826-32.
Briones-Fourzn, P., Ramrez-Zaldvar, E., & Lozano-lvarez, E. (2008). Influence of
Conspecific and Heterospecific Aggregation Cues and Alarm Odors on Shelter Choice by
Syntopic Spiny Lobsters. Biological Bulletin, (2). 182.
Gherardi, F., & Nardone, F.. (1997). The Question of Coexistence in Hermit Crabs:
Population Ecology of a Tropical Intertidal Assemblage. Crustaceana, 70(5), 608629.
Hazlett, B. A., & Rittschof, D. (2005). Effects of Food and Shell Cues on Mating in the
Hermit Crab Clibanarius vittatus. Behaviour, (6). 751-759.
Turra, A., & Gorman, D. (2014). Subjective resource value and shell abandoning
behavior in hermit crabs. Journal Of Experimental Marine Biology And Ecology, 452:137-142.

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