Hermit crabs (Pagurus bernhardus) use visual contrast in self- assessment of camouflage

David Wilby*, Samuel Riches, Ilse M. Daly, Andrew Bird, Matthew Wheelwright, James J. Foster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
198 Downloads (Pure)


Animals can make use of camouflage to reduce the likelihood of visual detection or recognition and thus improve their chances of survival. Background matching, where body colouration is closely matched to the surrounding substrate, is one form of camouflage. Hermit crabs have the opportunity to choose their camouflage independently of body colouration as they inhabit empty gastropod shells, making them ideal to study their choice of camouflage. We used 3D-printed artificial shells of varying contrasts against a grey substrate to test whether hermit crabs prefer shells that they perceive as less conspicuous. Contrast-minimising shells were chosen for Weber contrasts stronger than −0.5. However, in looming experiments, animals responded to contrasts as weak as −0.2, indicating that while they can detect differences between shells and the background, they are only motivated to move into those shells when the alternatives contrast strongly. This suggests a trade-off between camouflage and vulnerability introduced by switching shells.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb173831
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
Early online date4 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Background matching
  • Colouration
  • Crypsis
  • Vision


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