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Shelter association between the hermit crab Sympagurus dimorphus and the zoanthid Epizoanthus paguricola in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean

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Schejter, L. and Mantelatto, F.L. 2011. Shelter association between the hermit crab Sympagurus dimorphus and the zoanthid Epizoanthus paguricola in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean. —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 92: 141–149.

The available literature on zoanthid–hermit crab associations deals only with records of this phenomenon, providing no detailed information. We describe, for the first time, the shell-like colonies of Epizoanthus paguricola associated with the hermit crab Sympagurus dimorphus from benthic samples taken in the Argentine Sea, between 85 and 131 m depth, and provide information about morphometric relationships between the hermits and the zoanthids. In total, 260 specimens (137 males and 123 females) of S. dimorphus were collected, 240 (92.3%) of which were living in symbiosis with E. paguricola. The remaining 20 (7.7%) were living inside gastropod shells. As the initial structure of the pseudoshell, 12 different gastropod species were found (all were almost totally covered with colonies of E. paguricola). The hermit crab lives in the spiral cavity inside the soft colony, which seemed to be slightly different depending on the initial gastropod. Aperture pseudoshell morphology did not seem to be related to the sex of the hermit crab host, although males showed larger apertures for a given colony size. This fact is probably related to a larger size of male’s cheliped (sexual dimorphic character) used like a gastropod operculum and that may serve as a template for the growing of the aperture pseudoshell edge. The number of epizoanthid polyps per colony increased in relation to the weight of the colony and to the size of the hermit crab. A process of selection of the initial shell was evident, because species of Naticidae were not the most common gastropods in this benthic community, but were those most used by hermit crabs (>60%). The puzzling association between hermit crab, shell and zoanthid presumably occurs during the hermit juvenile phase, when the crab occupies a small shell, and a zoanthid larva settles on it. Given the close relationship between S. dimorphus and E. paguricola found in this region, we support the idea that due to the low availability of adequate gastropod shells for hermit life cycle, this association allows the establishment and the continuity of the hermit crab population in the studied area.

Keywords: Anomura; Argentina; Parapaguridae; symbiosis

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero (INIDEP), Laboratorio de Bentos. Paseo Victoria Ocampo No 1, 7600, Mar del Plata, Argentina

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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