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THE DESIGN OF A BEAUTIFUL WEAPON: COMPENSATION FOR OPPOSING SEXUAL SELECTION ON A TRAIT WITH TWO FUNCTIONS

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Abstract

Male fiddler crabs, genus Uca, have one greatly enlarged claw with which they court females and threaten and fight other males. Longer claws are more effective signals but are thought to be less effective weapons because the relative closing force at the tip of the claw decreases with claw length. We studied claw morphology and fighting in Uca terpsichores and Uca beebei and found a mechanism that may resolve opposing selection for signaling and fighting ability. When males fought they delivered gripping forces not at the tips but at the tubercles on the inner margins of their claws’ fingers. As claws grow, these tubercles remain relatively close to the apex of the gape. Consequently, the mechanical advantage that governs the forces that can be delivered at these tubercles decreases only slightly with increasing claw length allowing the claw to be an effective signal and a powerful weapon. Animal weapons are exceptionally diverse in form and detail of armature and the causes of this diversity are poorly understood. We suggest that the designs of weapons may often reflect compensatory patterns of growth and placement of armature that enhances the weapon's overall utility for multiple uses in competition for mates.

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Ancillary