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Reproductive Behavior in Horseshoe Crabs: Does Density Matter?
Biology Faculty Publications
  • Jennifer Mattei, Sacred Heart University
  • Mark Beekey, Sacred Heart University
  • Adam Rudman, Southern Connecticut State University
  • Alyssa Woronik, Stockholm University
Document Type
Peer-Reviewed Article
Publication Date

While the four species of horseshoe crabs share many common reproductive traits with respect to their reproductive systems, they do differ with respect to their mating behavior (monogamy vs. polygynandry). Past research has attributed these differences to a number of factors including: spawning densities, operational sex ratios (OSR’s), male condition (or age), environmental and/or genetic factors, or a combination thereof. Mating behaviors in the three Asian horseshoe crab species (Tachypleus gigas , T. tridentatus, and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda ) with low spawning densities and 1:1 operational sex ratios are typically monogamous. In Limulus polyphemus , mating behavior is more variable ranging from monogamy to polygynandry. Here we provide evidence, through a long term behavioral study, that variation in mating behavior is influenced by population density in L. polyphemus . Our study population on two beaches in Connecticut (Long Island Sound) have a spawning density 400 times less than that found in Delaware Bay (0.002 females/m2 vs. 0.8 females/m2) but similar operational sex ratios. Between 90%–95% of all spawning females in CT were paired with only one male, thus exhibiting monogamous behavior. In contrast, between 30 and 60% of spawning females in Delaware Bay have more than one mate and produce clutches of eggs with multiple paternities. Male condition played no role in mating behavior in CT populations. We also observed that on average 18% of the females on the spawning beaches are single. These results suggest that population density is an important condition that determines mating behavior. Also, low population density may lead to decreased mate finding ability and lost opportunities for spawning.


Faculty advisors, Jennifer Mattei and Mark Beekey.

Citation Information

Mattei, J, Beekey, M, Rudman, A, Woronik, A. (2010). Reproductive behavior in horseshoe crabs: Does density matter? Current Zoology 56(5), 634–642.