Hermit crabs perceive the extent of their virtual bodies

Kohei Sonoda, Akira Asakura, Mai Minoura, Robert W. Elwood, Yukio-P. Gunji

Abstract

A flexible body image is required by animals if they are to adapt to body changes and move effectively within a structurally complex environment. Here, we show that terrestrial hermit crabs, Coenobita rugosus, which frequently change shells, can modify walking behaviour, dependent on the shape of the shell. Hermit crabs walked along a corridor that had alternating left and right corners; if it was narrow at the corner, crabs rotated their bodies to avoid the wall, indicating an awareness of environmental obstacles. This rotation increased when a plastic plate was attached to the shell. We suggest that the shell, when extended by the plate, becomes assimilated to the hermit crab's own body. While there are cases of a tool being assimilated with the body, our result is the first example of the habitat where an animal lives and/or carries being part of a virtual body.

  • Received January 30, 2012.
  • Accepted February 7, 2012.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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