Hermit crabs perceive the extent of their virtual bodies

Kohei Sonoda, Akira Asakura, Mai Minoura, Robert W. Elwood, Yukio P. Gunji*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


A flexible body image is required by animals if they are to adapt to body changes and move effectively within a structurally complex environment. Here, we show that terrestrial hermit crabs, Coenobita rugosus, which frequently change shells, can modify walking behaviour, dependent on the shape of the shell. Hermit crabs walked along a corridor that had alternating left and right corners; if it was narrow at the corner, crabs rotated their bodies to avoid the wall, indicating an awareness of environmental obstacles. This rotation increased when a plastic plate was attached to the shell. We suggest that the shell, when extended by the plate, becomes assimilated to the hermit crab's own body. While there are cases of a tool being assimilated with the body, our result is the first example of the habitat where an animal lives and/or carries being part of a virtual body. This journal is

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-497
Number of pages3
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Aug 23
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Body
  • Hermit crab
  • Part and whole
  • Tool use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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