Behavioural adaptation to heat stress: shell lifting of the hermit crab Diogenes deflectomanus

Brian Kai Hin LEUNG, Tin Yan HUI, Gray A. WILLIAMS*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Behavioural responses to heat and desiccation stress in ectotherms are crucial for their survival in habitats where environmental temperatures are close to or even exceed their upper thermal limits. During low tide periods when pools in intertidal sediments heat up, a novel shell lifting behaviour (when hermit crabs crawl out of pools and lift up their shells) was observed in the hermit crab, Diogenes deflectomanus, on tropical sandy shores. On-shore measurements revealed that the hermit crabs left pools and lifted their shells predominantly when pool water exceeded 35.4 °C. Standing on emersed substrates above the pool water, the hermit crabs maintained their body temperatures at 26 – 29 °C, ∼ 10 °C lower than temperatures at which their physiological performances (as measured using heart rate) reached the maximum. This mismatch between preferred body temperatures and temperatures at maximal physiological performance was also observed under a laboratory controlled thermal gradient, where hermit crabs spent more time at 22 – 26 °C as compared to > 30 °C. These behaviours suggest a thermoregulatory function of the shell lifting behaviour, where the hermit crabs can avoid further increase in body temperatures when pools heat up during low tide periods. Such a behavioural decision allows the hermit crabs to be less prone to the strong temporal fluctuation in temperatures experienced during emersion periods on thermally dynamic tropical sandy shores.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103476
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
Early online date9 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Martin Cheng for his assistance in the laboratory, and Tom Li Chung Hoi for the photo of shell lifting hermit crabs (Fig. 1D).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Behavioural thermoregulation
  • Thermal performance
  • Thermal preference
  • Tropical sandy shore
  • Intertidal ectotherms


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