Time in residence affects escape and agonistic behavior in adult male American lobsters

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Acquisition and retention of a shelter by a lobster are two of the variables that play a role in lobster agonistic interactions. Since shelter procurement and retention are important for lobster survival, behaviors related to this activity frequently outrank other daily behaviors (e.g., searching for food). Here, we examine the effects of time in residence on the parameters of the escape response of the American lobster, Homarus americanus. Adult male intermolt lobsters (Stage C4) were placed in an experimental tank for three different time periods (one hour, 24 hours, and 48 hours). The probability of eliciting an escape response was inversely related to the time spent in the tank. Eighty percent of the animals in residence for 1 h tailflipped in response to a threat, whereas only 14% of the animals in residence for 48 h tailflipped. There were also significant changes in some of the parameters of the escape response among animals in residence for 24 h compared to those in residence for 1 h. The number of tailflips and the distance traveled were reduced, although frequency, velocity, acceleration, force, and work factors were not significantly different. Furthermore, with increased time in residence, lobsters switched from an avoidance or escape-prone behavior to an aggressive-prone behavior. Most of the animals in residence for 48 h approached and attacked a threat-stimulus rather than fleeing from it. On an empirically defined 'index of aggressiveness,' in which various behaviors were numerically ranked from least aggressive (0) to most aggressive (6), animals residing in the tank for 1 h had an average index value of 0.1 compared to a value of 5.0 for animals in residence for 48 h. These findings are consonant with the suggestion that lobsters that have occupied a given space for an extended period of time take possession of the site and defend it instead of fleeing when threatened with a threat-inducing stimulus; it supports the idea that shelter retention increases aggressiveness and diminishes avoidance behaviors.

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Biological Bulletin