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Keywords:

  • behavior;
  • carapace;
  • color;
  • crab;
  • signaling

Abstract

Mud fiddler crabs, Uca pugnax, have a streak of blue coloration located on the front of the carapace above the mouth and centered between the eyes. We documented that this blue streak is absent in juveniles and develops as crabs become sexually mature. By photographing male crabs under controlled conditions in the laboratory, we demonstrated that the brightness of the blue streak (in comparison with the rest of the carapace) is dynamic, and can dim from bright blue to nearly black in fewer than two minutes. We examined blue streak variability in male crabs in response to physical factors (light and temperature) and social context to begin to understand what causes its dynamic response. The blue streak darkens in response to decreased ambient light, but does not respond to changes in temperature. In the field, it is brighter when crabs are roaming on the mudflat or fighting, but darker when crabs are basking or performing waving displays. The highly visual nature of fiddler crabs and the dynamic character of the blue streak suggest that it may communicate information about the state of a crab or its environment.