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Social networking helps hermit crabs find homes
Date:4/26/2010

? One previously identified strategy that apparently helps each hermit crab find the very best shell is joining a lively group activity known as a synchronous vacancy chain. When a new shell becomes available, crabs gather around it and queue up in a line from largest to smallest. Once the largest crab moves into the vacant shell, each crab in the queue swiftly switches into the newly vacated shell right in front of them. As a result, a single vacant shell kicks off an entire chain of shell vacancies that ultimately leads to many crabs getting new, and generally improved, housing.

Hermits Show New Social Behaviors

By seeding vacant shells into field populations and staying up all night to see what happened, the scientists discovered some previously unknown hermit crab behaviors. When a hermit crab discovers an empty but oversized shell, it waits nearby rather than simply walking away. Once a small group gathers, crabs begin piggybacking by holding onto the shell of a larger crab and riding along. Such waiting and piggybacking behaviors seem to increase the chances that a synchronous vacancy chain will happen. "They spend hours queuing up, and then the chain fires off in seconds, just like a line of dominoes," says Rotjan. Computer models populated with virtual hermit crabs and shells confirmed that synchronous vacancy chains depend not only on crab density, but also on how long crabs are programmed to wait near an unsuitable shell.

According to Rotjan, the same kind of synchronous vacancy chain can occur with any animal that relies on discrete and reusable resources, such as anemone-dwelling fish and hole-nesting woodpeckers. Studying vacancy chains in hermit crabs might even lend new perspective on human behaviors, since people regularly participate in synchronous vacancy chains. For example, every September 1, neighborhood streets in Boston, Mass., are clogged with rental trucks and moving vans. This signals that the city's many
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Contact: Kim Thurler
kim.thurler@tufts.edu
617-627-3175
Tufts University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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