Wave of mutilation: scavenging hermit crabs use social information to locate carcasses

Annie Rowe, Arantzazu Pagonabarraga Altisen, Adèle Dubosque, Anna Hills, Akanksha Shah, Anna Vegh, A. Li Veiros, Michael Munro Webster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Carcasses are patchily distributed and often short-lived resources, placing scavenging animals under pressure to locate them before they rot or are depleted by competitors. Scavengers may search for carcasses directly, or indirectly, using social information. Aggregations of feeding animals and their conspicuous competitive behaviour may be more readily detectable to searching scavengers than the carcass itself. Moreover, the actions of attendant scavengers upon the carcass, breaking it apart and releasing odour or chemical cues, may further enhance its detectability to others foraging nearby. Here we test this idea. In the first of two experiments performed in the field, we found that hermit crabs (Pagurus bernhardus) were attracted to shelled mussels (Mytilus edulis) that other hermit crabs were already feeding on. They showed no strong tendency to approach aggregations of conspecifics in the absence of food, nor conspecifics that were confined close to mussels but prevented from feeding on them. We speculated that through breaking up the carcass, the feeding hermit crabs released chemical cues and drifting particles of mussel tissue that further attracted other hermit crabs. We tested this in a second experiment, finding that finely chopped mussels attracted significantly more hermit crabs than did intact mussels. We suggest that scavenger feeding action upon carcasses makes these more detectable to others by releasing odour and particle plumes, a form of inadvertently produced social information.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13493
Number of pages9
VolumeEarly View
Early online date29 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jun 2024


  • Competition
  • Foraging
  • Grouping
  • Public information
  • Scrounging
  • Social foraging


Dive into the research topics of 'Wave of mutilation: scavenging hermit crabs use social information to locate carcasses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this