Taking a risk: how far will male fiddler crabs go?



Publication Details

Heatwole, S. J., Christy, J. H. & Backwell, P. R. Y. (2018). Taking a risk: how far will male fiddler crabs go?. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 72 (82), 1-6.


Courtship is costly for males when it increases their energy expenditure and predation risk. There are several ways in which males might be able to mitigate these costs, or compensate for them by elevating the benefits of courtship. First, they could selectively court more profitable females. Second, they could adjust the amount of risk they take against their residual reproductive value. Third, they could sometimes use cheaper signals to deceive females. In the fiddler crab Leptuca terpsichores (Crane, 1941), males risk losing their burrow to another crab and falling prey to a bird when they leave their burrow to intercept a mate-searching female and lead her back to the burrow for mating. Some males build sand hoods at their burrow entrances, which are landmarks that attract females and allow males to relocate their burrows quickly with little error. Here, we show that (1) males took greater risks when courting larger females by travelling farther away from their burrows; (2) the distance a male moved from his burrow did not depend on his size (hence, age); and (3) males with sand hoods did not travel farther away from their burrows than males without hoods, and they were not more likely to reach females. Taking greater risks when courting larger (more fecund) females appears to be a key means through which male fiddler crabs can achieve a more favourable balance between the costs and benefits of courtship. Significance statement: Courtship and mate choice can be costly for males. Males may improve the balance between courtship costs and benefits by modifying their risk-taking during courtship according to the perceived value of the female, or their expectations of future reproduction. Male fiddler crabs move away from their burrows to court females, which is risky because they may lose the burrow or be attacked by predators. We used the distance a male travels from his burrow as an index for the level of risk he is willing to take. We explored the effects of female size, male age, and the presence of a sand hood at the burrow entrance on distance travelled during courtship. Males took greater risks to court larger females, but did not adjust risk-taking according to their age (expected future reproduction) or whether their burrow had a sand hood.

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