Nov
13
2008

Animal behavior? Please. It’s called “all talk,” and I’ve been doing it for years.

I have a tiny black belt: And a condo in Cabo. I'll totally take you there sometime, babe.
I have a tiny black belt: And a condo in Cabo. I'll totally take you there sometime, babe.Courtesy Junglecat
Australian ecologists have recently been observed soiling themselves and drooling over lying crabs.

Honestly, people. Lying about crabs, now that might be something worth getting excited over… But this? Whatever.

What the ecologists have observed, to be precise, are fiddler crabs that are “dishonest” about their own physical prowess, acting as though they are stronger fighters than they actually are.

Fiddler crabs have two pinching claws, but, in males, one of the claws grows to be much, much larger than the other one. This larger, stronger claw is used to attract mates, and to fight off male competitors. If a crab’s fighting claw is ripped off, a new one will grow back. The researchers noticed, however, that some male crabs were growing new claws that were as large as their old claws, but were also significantly weaker, and lacking serrated “teeth.” The new claws were “cheaper” for the crabs to grow (that is, they required less energy and food from the crab), and other crabs were unable to tell them apart from “real” claws.

It’s like the crabs had figured out that they could stick up a bank with a fake gun—the weapon is cheaper, and ultimately harmless, but it looks like its dangerous.

The scientists are excited because it’s rare that they’re able to study animal “dishonesty” so fully—here they can measure a crab’s claw size and strength, and the crab’s ability to keep itself from being pulled out of its burrow, and they can observe how successful individual crabs are in acquiring a mate.

To this, I say, “Whatev.” I’m an expert at acting tougher than I really am, and Australian ecologists act like I don’t even exist. Despite my weak limbs, my tactic of scuttling around sideways and circling my opponents while waving my hands in the air always, I say always, works. They don’t know what hit them (and it certainly wasn’t me). And then it’s just me and the ladies.

(Although the ladies are usually always kind of freaked out by the scuttling thing too. But the first part of the strategy remains sound.)

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