• Strategy

Social networking aids housing search: hermit crabs


Hermit Crab, Coenobita clypeatus / AbsolutDan / LicenseCC-by-sa - Attribution Share Alike

Social networking behaviors in hermit crabs helps them find new homes using vacancy chains and other behaviors.

"A recent study by biologists at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences and the New England Aquarium reveals that hermit crabs may locate new and improved housing using previously unknown social networking skills

"Their researchreveals that, contrary to their name, hermit crabs often find the best new shells when they gather together.
"Hermit crabs have an unusual lifestyle because they require empty snail shells for shelter. They need to regularly seek new shells as they grow bigger throughout their lives

"One previously identified strategy that apparently helps each hermit crab find the very best shell is joining a lively group activity known as a synchronous vacancy chain. When a new shell becomes available, crabs gather around it and queue up in a line from largest to smallest. Once the largest crab moves into the vacant shell, each crab in the queue swiftly switches into the newly vacated shell right in front of them. As a result, a single vacant shell kicks off an entire chain of shell vacancies that ultimately leads to many crabs getting new, and generally improved, housing.

"[T]he scientists discovered some previously unknown hermit crab behaviors. When a hermit crab discovers an empty but oversized shell, it waits nearby rather than simply walking away. Once a small group gathers, crabs begin piggybacking by holding onto the shell of a larger crab and riding along. Such waiting and piggybacking behaviors seem to increase the chances that a synchronous vacancy chain will happen

"According to Rotjan, the same kind of synchronous vacancy chain can occur with any animal that relies on discrete and reusable resources…" (Tufts University News Releases 2010)
About the inspiring organism
Med_coenobitaclypeatus_1 land hermit
Coenobita clypeatus (J. C. Fabricius, 1787)
Common name: Land hermit

Learn more at EOL.org
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Social networking system for use in finding new homes, new cars, new office buildings, etc.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Social networking, real estate, sales

The Rotjan Lab
Randi D. Rotjan
Edgerton Research Laboratory, New England Aquarium
2010. Social networking helps hermit crabs find homes. Tufts University News Releases [Internet],
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Rotjana RD; Chabot JR; Lewis SM. 2010. Social context of shell acquisition in Coenobita clypeatus hermit crabs. Behavioral Ecology. 21(3): 639-646.
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