Pillar Function in the Fiddler Crab Uca beebei (II): Competitive Courtship Signaling


Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apdo 2072, Balboa, Ancon, Republic of Panama.


Male Uca beebei court and attract females into burrows they defend on muddy sand flats in the intertidal zone on the Pacific coast of the tropical Americas. Mating, oviposition and incubation (breeding) occur underground in males' burrows. Some courting males build mud pillars (2 cm high) at the entrance of their burrow. The purpose of this field study was to assess the role of pillars in competitive courtship signaling among males.

I studied the effect of pillars on female behavior by recording the responses of wandering females to courtship from males resident at burrows with and without pillars. I also caught females, released them individually in a circular arena with an equal number of empty burrows with and without pillars around its circumference, and chased the females with a simulated avian predator. Females moved to burrows of both types more often when they were courted (82%) than when they were chased (67%). Receptive females were attracted to the burrows of the males that courted them significantly more often (97%) when these burrows had pillars than when they lacked pillars (66%). However, once females entered males' burrows they were equally likely to remain, mate and breed in both types of burrows. Females also more often moved to burrows with pillars (66%) than to burrows without pillars when they ran from the simulated predator. Both male courtship displays and pillars probably provide cues females use to locate males' burrows. The visual similarity between pillars and a display courting males give immediately before they enter their burrows suggests that pillars are icons of the display. The effect of pillars on female behavior, the timing of pillar building relative to when females choose mates, and contrasts in the behavior of males that do and those that do not build pillars suggest that pillar building has evolved due to competition among males to attract females into their burrows.