LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY
Age, Size, Lifespan
With the exception of the giant hermit crab, Petrochirus diogenes, C. vittatus is likely the largest hermit crab species in the IRL. The anterior shield of the carapace ranges from about 14 to 17 mm in length (Williams 1984). Adult crabs are commonly found inhabiting gastropod shells at least 10 cm long (Ruppert & Fox 1988).
Mean abundance for thinstripe hermit populations in the IRL at the Sebastian Inlet has been documented to vary seasonally from 1.5 to 13.9 individuals m-2 for January and November, respectively (Lowery & Nelson 1988).
Reproduction & Embryology
As with other crustaceans, C. vittatus reproduces sexually via copulation and the transfer of a spermatophore from the male to the female (Hazlett 1996; Hess & Bauer 2002). Eggs are laid on the abdomen of the female up to one hour after mating (Turra & Leite 2007). Ovigerous, or egg-bearing, female hermits have been reported from April through September for populations at Sebastian Inlet in the IRL (Lowery & Nelson 1988), with each female carrying between 1,000 to 30,000 eggs on her abdomen in a mass commonly called a ‘sponge’. Over the course of their development, eggs grow from a diameter of about 0.4 to 0.7 mm. Fecundity in terms of egg number and weight is positively correlated to the size of the female (Turra & Leite 2001). Because they produce multiple clutches over a single reproductive season, the annual reproductive capacity for a single individual has been estimated at about 180,000 eggs (Turra & Leite 2001).
Laboratory examination of ovigerous crabs revealed that the females exhibited synchronous spawning around sunset, releasing their entire clutch over the course of one to several days (Ziegler & Forward, Jr. 2006). After the larvae are released into the water column, they pass through 4-5 zoeal stages and one post-larval stage called a glaucothoe before settling and metamorphosing into juveniles (Williams 1984; Brossi-Garcia 1988). Developmental times may vary with water temperature, salinity, and other environmental factors (e.g. Harvey 1996), but have been documented to range from 24 to 91 days (Williams 1984; Turra & Leite 2007).
Thinstripe hermits are considered to employ an opportunistic trophic mode, feeding on a variety of plant and animal material. Diet studies involving gut content analysis revealed that crabs consumed 40% scavenged material, 40% detritus, and 20% substratum (Williams 1984).
Information on the predators of C. vittatus is scare, but crabs are likely preyed upon by large benthic-feeding fishes and other crustaceans. Eggs and larvae are consumed by a variety of organisms, including some species that are considered to be commensals of the parent crab (Williams 1984).
Hermit crabs could be considered one of the best examples of obligatorily associated marine organisms. Following settlement and metamorphosis of the post-larva to a benthic juvenile, each crab must locate and crawl into an appropriately sized gastropod snail shell. Failure to find a shell usually results in death from predation or other environmental hazards. If no suitable vacant shells are available, crabs may fight each other or kill and remove living snails from their shells to obtain optimal housing (e.g. Williams 1984; Ruppert & Fox 1988). Shell selection in the thinstripe hermit is thought to be strongly correlated to crab size and weight (Turra & Leite 2004), as well as visual and chemical recognition of favored gastropod species (Diaz et al. 1995). C. vittatus has been documented to select shells from several gastropod species throughout its range, including: the lightening whelk, Busycon contrarium; the knobbed whelk, B. carica; the moon snail, Polinices duplicatus; the Florida rocksnail, Stramontia haemastoma; the giant triton, Cymatium parthenopeum; and the giant African snail, Achatina fulica (Kaplan 1988; Diaz et al. 1995; Sant’Anna et al. 2006).
In addition to the requirements they have for suitable gastropod shells, hermit crabs like C. vittatus frequently form non-obligatory associations with other invertebrates as well. The anemone, Calliactis tricolor, is often found attached to gastropod shells inhabited by several species of hermit crabs, including C. vittatus (Ruppert & Fox 1988). The body of the anemone is dull brown to pink with cream stripes, bearing up to 200 short tentacles that may be white, pink or orange. Like other anemones, the mouth is located in the center of the tentacles, marked with yellow, red and pinkish-purple bands (Ruppert & Fox 1988). Anemones are usually quite small, but can grow up to a few centimeters in diameter. The relationship between C. vittatus and C. tricolor is thought to be mutualistic. The anemone gains mobile shelter, food and reduced competition from other anemones. In turn, it has been suggested that the anemone affords the crab camouflage and some degree of protection, via its stinging tentacles, from possible predators such as octopus (Ruppert & Fox 1988). Although the anemones can and do relocate independently, crabs also actively collect anemones from nearby rocks and/or transfer them as they move into new shells.
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