Shell preferences, as shown by laboratory choice experiments, are important determinants of shell utilization under natural conditions. Size and shell species preferences of the hermit crab Pagurus exilis were determined and compared for the most occupied shell types (Olivancillaria urceus, Natica isabelleana and Buccinanops gradatum) in the Caraguatatuba region, Brazil, and for the two most occupied species (B. gradatum and N. isabelleana) in Mar del Plata, Argentina. All experiments were conducted under laboratory conditions, using glass aquaria where the hermit crabs were placed naked with a large number of shells of appropriate sizes. After 36 h the crabs and chosen shells were measured. The relationship between preferred shell type, shell size and shell volume was determined by regression analysis. Pagurus exilis showed significant choices amongst shell types. Specimens from Argentina preferred N. isabelleana and those from Brazil chose B. gradatum > N. isabelleana > O. urceus. Preferences were characterized by shell weight and internal volume. The present data lead us to conclude that shell selection by hermit crabs involves individual preferences related to the shell features that best provide protection and survival.
Keywords: Crustacea, Paguridae, Pagurus exilis, ocupación de concha, Atlántico sudoccidental, shell occupation, southwestern Atlantic