The selective advantage of host feminization: a case study of the green crab Carcinus maenas and the parasitic barnacle Sacculina carcini

Male crabs infected by parasitic barnacles (Rhizocephala) are known to be morphologically feminized. Here, we investigate morphological chances in green crabs, Carcinus maenas, induced by the parasitic barnacle Sacculina carcini. Infected males acquire a broader, longer and segmented abdomen, fringed with marginal setae. Copulatory appendages and pereopods are reduced in length, and the chelae become smaller. The feminization show great individual variation. Males with scars from lost externae, the parasites reproductive organ situated under the abdomen, are less modified than males carrying an externa, and the feminization is more pronounced in smaller than in larger males. No super-feminization is evident in female crabs that remain morphologically unaffected by infection. The protective value of a parasitically induced enlargement of the male abdomen may constitute an adaptation that increases parasite longevity. The additional effects on male morphology are viewed as pleiotropic side effects of the main adaptive value of enlarging the abdomen.