MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. Everyone wants to live in the nicest possible house, ideally with regular upgrades. A recent study by biologists at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences and the New England Aquarium reveals that hermit crabs may locate new and improved housing using previously unknown social networking skills.
The scientists combined field studies, lab experiments and computer models to uncover some surprising new tricks that could lead to better house-hunting strategies for humans and hermit crabs alike. Their research, published in the May/June 2010 issue of the journal Behavioral Ecology (available online on April 1), reveals that, contrary to their name, hermit crabs often find the best new shells when they gather together.
Hermit crabs have an unusual lifestyle because they require empty snail shells for shelter. They need to regularly seek new shells as they grow bigger throughout their lives. "Hermit crabs are really picky about real estate because they're constantly getting thrown back into the housing market," says Randi Rotjan, leader of the research team and a co-author with Sara Lewis, professor of biology at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences.
Rotjan studied with Lewis to earn her Ph.D. from Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and is now a research scientist at the New England Aquarium. Starting during Rotjan's graduate school days, Rotjan and Lewis have collaborated to gain a better understanding of social interactions among hermit crabs.
Often there aren't enough suitable shells to go around and some hermit crabs have to go naked. The soft, exposed abdomen of these homeless crabs makes them more vulnerable to predators. "I've seen hermit crabs dragging around in bottle caps and even ballpoint pen tops. It's pathetic," says Lewis, senior author on the Behavioral Ecology paper.
So, how do hermit crabs win this life-or-death shell game
|Contact: Kim Thurler|