Signals from 'crabworld': cuticular reflections in a fiddler crab colony

J Zeil, M Hofmann
2001 Journal of Experimental Biology  
Fiddler crabs inhabit intertidal sand- and mudflats, where they live in dense colonies and are active on the surface during low tide. They exhibit a rich behavioural repertoire, with frequent interactions between animals in the context of territorial and mating activities. Male fiddler crabs have one massively enlarged and conspicuously coloured claw, which they use in waving displays and in fights with other males. The crabs carry their eyes on long, vertically oriented stalks high above the
more » ... dy and, as a consequence, see the bodies of conspecifics in the ventral visual field, below the local visual horizon, and against the mudflat surface as background. We filmed events in a colony of Uca vomeris with a normal video camera and an ultraviolet-sensitive camera placed at the eye height of an average crab, approximately 2-3 cm above ground. We also used a spectrographic imager and linear polarized filters to analyse the cues potentially available to the animals for detecting, monitoring and possibly identifying each other. Areas of high contrast in mudflat scenes include specular reflections on the wet cuticle of crabs that are horizontally polarised. Besides specular reflections, some parts of the cuticle generate high-contrast signals against the mudflat background, both at wavelengths between 400 and 700 nm, and in the ultraviolet region between 300 and 400 nm. Uca vomeris can be very colourful: the different parts of the large claw of the male are white, orange or red. The carapace colours of both males and females can range from a mottled yellowish green brown, to a brilliant light blue. White and blue colours contrast starkly with the mudflat background, especially in the ultraviolet wavelengths. Under stress, the blue and white colours can change within minutes to a duller and darker blue or to a dull white.
pmid:11511672 fatcat:cwadfjolqbap5gsf2cqc7vaw3m