Eavesdropping in crabs: an agency for lady detection

Richard N. C. Milner, Michael D. Jennions, Patricia R. Y. Backwell


Although conspicuous courtship displays are an effective way of attracting the attention of receptive females, they could provide valuable information to rival males on the location of these females. In fiddler crabs, males that see a receptive female wave their single, greatly enlarged claw in a highly conspicuous courtship display. We test whether other males use this courtship display to alert them to the presence of receptive females that they cannot directly see. We show that male fiddler crabs (Uca mjoebergi) eavesdrop on the courtship displays of nearby males to detect mate-searching females. This allows males to begin waving before a female becomes visible. Furthermore, males appear to adjust their waving according to the information available: eavesdropping males wave 12 times faster than non-courting males but only 1.7 times slower than males in full visual contact with the female.


    • Received April 20, 2010.
    • Accepted May 11, 2010.
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