The variable colours of the fiddler crab Uca vomeris and their relation to background and predation

Jan M. Hemmi, Justin Marshall, Waltraud Pix, Misha Vorobyev, Jochen Zeil*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    81 Citations (Scopus)


    Colour changes in fiddler crabs have long been noted, but a functional interpretation is still lacking. Here we report that neighbouring populations of Uca vomeris in Australia exhibit different degrees of carapace colours, which range from dull mottled to brilliant blue and white. We determined the spectral characteristics of the mud substratum and of the carapace colours of U. vomeris and found that the mottled colours of crabs are cryptic against this background, while display colours provide strong colour contrast for both birds and crabs, but luminance contrast only for a crab visual system. We tested whether crab populations may become cryptic under the influence of bird predation by counting birds overflying or feeding on differently coloured colonies. Colonies with cryptically coloured crabs indeed experience a much higher level of bird presence, compared to colourful colonies. We show in addition that colourful crab individuals subjected to dummy bird predation do change their body colouration over a matter of days. The crabs thus appear to modify their social signalling system depending on their assessment of predation risk.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4140-4153
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number20
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006


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