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Spiny lobsters stick and slip to make sound

These crustaceans can scare off predators even when their usual armour turns soft.


Many arthropods are able to produce pulsed sounds by rubbing a hard pick over stiff macroscopic ridges1, rather like dragging a stick over a washboard. Spiny lobsters (Palinuridae) also make pulsed sounds, and here I show that they generate these by virtue of a frictional 'stick-and-slip' mechanism that is more usually associated with bowed stringed instruments. By using this technique rather than a 'hard-washboard' mechanism, lobsters can produce strident warning sounds against predators throughout their moult cycle, including the period when their exoskeleton is softened and they are most susceptible to predation.

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Figure 1: 'Face' view of Panulirus ornatus, which produces sound using a stick-and-slip mechanism.
Figure 2: Comparison of the 'stick-and-slip' mechanism used by a spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) to produce sound and the 'washboard' mechanism typically used by other arthropods.


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Correspondence to Sheila N. Patek.

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Patek, S. Spiny lobsters stick and slip to make sound. Nature 411, 153–154 (2001).

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