Coordinated group response to nest intruders in social shrimp

Eva Tóth, J. Emmett Duffy

Abstract

A key characteristic of highly social animals is collective group response to important stimuli such as invasion by enemies. The marine societies of social snapping shrimp share many convergences with terrestrial eusocial animals, including aggressive reaction to strangers, but no group actions have yet been observed in shrimp. Here we describe ‘coordinated snapping’, during which a sentinel shrimp reacts to danger by recruiting other colony members to snap in concert for several to tens of seconds. This distinctive behaviour is a specific response to intrusion by strange shrimp into the colony's sponge and is highly successful at repelling these intruders. Although coordinated snapping apparently functions analogously to alarm responses in other social animals, colony members in social shrimp do not rush to the site of the attack. Coordinated snapping appears instead to be a warning signal to would-be intruders that the sponge is occupied by a cooperative colony ready to defend it. This is the first evidence for coordinated communication in social shrimp and represents yet another remarkable convergence between social shrimp, insects and vertebrates.

  • Received June 15, 2004.
  • Accepted August 6, 2004.
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