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