Dishonest Fiddler Crabs Score More Babes, Thanks To Bogus Claws

 by  |  December 1st, 2008  |  Published in All, Animals & Life Science, Blog

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picture courtesy: Dr. Patricia Backwell, ANU

Just look at this fellow. Seems like the trustworthy type, right? The kind of crab who would take long scuttles on the beach, dine on some detritus by moonlight, and then go home to meet your mother?

Alas, this is not the case.

According to the British Ecological Society’s journal Functional Ecology, that manly claw that made him so attractive in the first place might be a phony—so who knows what other things he’s keeping from you! (I bet that blue is a dye job…)

Australian ecologists recently discovered that some male fiddler crabs exaggerate their fighting ability by growing claws that appear large and strong but are actually pretty wimpy. When a crab loses his claw in a fight, he can regenerate it. Usually, the replacement claw is exactly like the original, but ecologists found that some crabs are cheating by growing a larger replacement claw. The larger claw (the one shaped like a “fiddle”) is beneficial for attracting female mates and intimidating other male crabs in a fight.

The researchers tested the strength of fiddler crabs and were able to see if they were “bluffing” about their size. University of New South Wales ecologist Simon Lailvaux and colleagues from the Australian National University measured the claw size in relation to the crab’s ability to latch onto something to avoid being pulled out of its hole. With the original claw, there was a strong positive correlation, but this was not always the case with the regenerated claw.

Growing a larger claw, however, does have a drawback: It compromises the strength of the appendage. The new claw is lighter and “toothless”—not what you’d want to defend yourself with when an opponent’s claw comes snapping your way. Fortunately for these liars, other male crabs can’t tell genuine from fake. Unless some plucky underdog fiddler decides to challenge the phony, no one’s the wiser.

Lailvaux says aside from the obvious “size matters” implications, the research provides further evidence that dishonesty exists in the animal kingdom, too. Such evidence is not easy to come by because studying dishonesty is pretty hard—what with the lying and all.

Lailvaux is uncertain whether the large claw evolved for intimidating male opponents or for attracting female mates; it could have evolved for one reason and was then adopted for the other.

Either way, we’re thinking whoever came up with the idea for those enormous Hulk fist gloves was really onto something.

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  1. bill says:

    December 4th, 2008 at 4:19 pm (#)

    dishonesty? this is how crabs grow, and evolve. How much time did you give these crabs to strengthen up his their claw?

    crabs with bigger claws get more females, therefore pass on their genes, and evolve into more crabs with big claws. I don’t think a crab can control how big his appendages grow anymore than any other animal.

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