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During animal contests over resources, opponents often signal their fighting ability in an attempt to avoid escalating to physical attack. A reliable signal is beneficial to receivers because it allows them to avoid injuries from engaging in contests they are unlikely to win. However, a signaler could benefit from deceiving an opponent by signaling greater fighting ability or greater aggressive intent than the signaler possesses. Therefore, the reliability of agonistic signals has long intrigued researchers. We investigated whether a colored patch, the meral spot, signals weapon performance in the stomatopod Neogonodactylus oerstedii. During fights over possession of refuges, stomatopods can injure or even kill opponents with their ultrafast strike. We found that darker meral spots correlate with higher strike impulse, which reflects the total force integrated over time. Furthermore, we demonstrate that stomatopods that strike more often with both appendages have darker meral spots and that the first hit in a two-appendage strike has a greater mean strike impulse than that of a single-appendage strike. This indicates that stomatopods with darker meral spots tend to invest more energy in each strike. Our results provide evidence that stomatopods use total reflectance as an honest signal of weapon performance or aggressive intent. This improves our understanding of the evolution of agonistic signals.


This article was originally published in Biological Bulletin, volume 236, issue 1, in 2019.


The University of Chicago