Deception in Visual and Chemical Communication in Crustaceans

  • John H. Christy
  • Dan Rittschof


Deception in animal communication occurs when one animal causes another to respond to a condition that does not exist or to fail to respond to one that does. Signals that bluff produce the first kind of error, behavior that hides causes the second, and both are common in visual communication by crustaceans. In contrast, crustacean chemical communication may usually be honest because the communicative chemicals typically are byproducts of the biochemical mechanisms by which crustaceans are built and operate. These cues, which often are released in urine, reliably reveal an individual’s identity, sex, reproductive state, and condition. There are, however, opportunities for deception by bluffing and by hiding in the chemical channel. Bluffing may occur when dominance relationships are learned and individuals recognize each other. Subordinates may avoid known dominants even after the condition of the dominant has declined and it is no longer able to win a fight with the subordinate. Frequent probing by subordinates should check such bluffing. Hiding in the chemical channel may occur in escalated fights in which one animal fails to chemically announce its intent to strike and wins by delivering a blind-side punch to an unprepared opponent. Receptive female crabs and lobsters may also withhold cues of their receptivity to avoid courtship by some males, yet direct the same cues to preferred potential mates. In species with multiple male morphs, we speculate that subordinate males may hide from dominants by withholding male odors or mimicking female odors. In species with internal fertilization we also suggest that male seminal fluids may contain chemicals that affect female reproductive processes and bias the rate the male’s sperm fertilize the female’s eggs. Detecting deception in chemical communication will be very challenging, but we encourage crustacean researchers to keep this possibility in mind when examining signaling behavior via chemicals.


Blue Crab Hermit Crab Seminal Fluid Fiddler Crab Individual Recognition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Martin Thiel and Thomas Breithaupt for their guidance, helpful criticism, and especially their patience. J. Christy thanks Pat Backwell for freely sharing ideas and for her expert assistance in field studies of visual deception in fiddler crabs. D. Rittschof thanks Sarah McCall, Zach Darnell, Kelly Darnell, and Ruth McDowell for the quality time in the field with sexually receptive blue crabs.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama

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