The paradox of the weakening combatant: trade-off between closing force and gripping speed in a sexually selected combat structure


†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


  • 1Previous evidence demonstrates that closing force decreases proportionally as fiddler crab claw size increases. Larger crabs do have greater absolute closing force, but less than would be expected if claw proportions were isometric. In the Mud Fiddler Crab, Uca pugnax, this is explained by a decrease in mechanical advantage with increasing claw size.
  • 2We here re-measure mechanical advantage with a more direct method than used previously; the relationship of mechanical advantage to claw size was similar to the older indirect measure. Because the fiddler crab claw is a simple lever, we predicted that the observed decline in closing force should be compensated by a proportional increase in closing speed.
  • 3We tested this hypothesis using high-speed video to observe crabs closing their major claws spontaneously under controlled conditions. Closing speed scaled positively to claw length as predicted, and the value of the exponent conformed to expectation from a simple biomechanical model.
  • 4Evolution of the fiddler crab claw therefore involved a trade-off of closing force for closing speed. An adaptive explanation of relative weakening with increasing body size may lie in the increased ability to rapidly grasp an opponent, a crucial advantage in fiddler crab combat.