Reproductive Biology in Blue Crabs


Female behaviour, sexual competition and mate guarding in the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus

Animal Behavior

Volume 55, Issues 3. 1998. Pages 589 - 603

Paul Jivoff 1 2 and Anson Hines 2

1 Department of Zoology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland
2 Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland, USA


Blue crabs mate immediately after the female's final moult. We tested the influence of female moult stage, sex ratio and male size on the pre-mating behaviour of both sexes, and the ability of males to pair with females and aggressively compete for access to females. We observed crabs in field enclosures and surveyed pre-copulatory mate-guarding patterns in the field. Female behaviour changed as they progressed through the final moult cycle, such that early moult-stage females avoided males, but late moult-stage females initiated pair formation. The changes in female behaviour influenced both the behaviour and pairing capability of males. Males courted and paired with late moult-stage females on their first attempt, but pursued early moult-stage females because their first attempts to pair often failed. In the field, early moult-stage females were paired less often than late moult-stage females. The pre-mating behaviour of both sexes also varied with sex ratio; when males were abundant, males traded courtship for forced capture and females courted less. Large males were more successful at take-overs, but did not pair more often with late moult-stage females, suggesting that large males do not consistently guard for less time than small males. The changes in female behaviour are consistent with the female's need to avoid the costs of guarding and suggest that females influence how pre-copulatory mate guarding occurs in this species.