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New research shows crustaceans have personalities


13 March 2008

You don't need a backbone to have a personality, that's the message from University of Plymouth scientists who have discovered that crustaceans have individual personalities just like humans and other vertebrates.

Individuals consistently differ from each other in their behaviour, resulting in what we call 'animal personalities'. While the vast majority of studies into this subject focus on animals with backbones, there is no theoretical reason why personalities should not also be present in invertebrates - as University of Plymouth research has now demonstrated.

Dr Mark Briffa, a Marine Biology lecturer and animal behaviour expert led the team that has made the breakthrough after studying the presence of the key personality trait, 'boldness' in hermit crabs over a six month period.

Showcasing a new statistical way of determining the extent to which animals demonstrate personalities, each crab's individual level of boldness was analysed by measuring their startle responses under a range of different conditions - presenting it with an unfamiliar stimulus and seeing how long it takes to recover from being startled by it.

On the findings Mark says; "Some crabs were consistently bolder than others. Also, there were differences in the overall level of boldness in crabs taken from different locations. Crabs from Looe in Cornwall were bolder on average than their counterparts from Plymouth, which tended to be quite shy!"

Dr Briffa and his team now plan to build on the research by investigating the links between boldness and other personality traits such as aggressiveness and inquisitiveness.

The full research paper has been published in the Royal Society Journal this week.


Notes to editors

- The research paper entitled, "Comparing the strength of behavioural plasticity and consistency across situations: Animal personalities in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus" by Mark Briffa, Simon Rundle and Adam Fryer is published in the Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences. 

- Please direct all media enquiries to University of Plymouth Press and PR Officer, Karen Mason on 01752 588002.