Calcium-Bearing Objects Elicit Shell Selection Behavior in a Hermit Crab

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Science  19 Feb 1982:
Vol. 215, Issue 4535, pp. 993-995
DOI: 10.1126/science.215.4535.993


Hermit crabs explore empty gastropod shells by touching, rolling, and probing them before choosing one for a home. This component of shell selection behavior was examined in Pagurus hirsutiusculus hirsutiusculus (Dana) with binary choice tests between natural shells and accurate replicas of the shells with different chemical compositions. The results show that calcium emanating from the surface of shells is responsible for the behavior. Sensitivity to calcium may be a factor that enables the hermit crab to locate partially buried shells and discriminate empty shells from ones housing living gastropods or from small pebbles.