Many species of sea urchins cover their bodies with a variety of materials. One hypothesis for this behaviour is that the urchins are reducing their exposure to UV radiation. The effect of UV radiation on the covering behaviour of twelve sea urchins, Lytechinus variegatus, was recorded and the shells used as covering materials were quantified. During UV exposure, urchins used significantly greater numbers, areas and masses of shells than did urchins during non-UV exposure. Results suggest that not only were L. variegatus covering in response to UV exposure, but they were also making distinct choices regarding preferred covering items. Unlike in previous studies, the urchins did not simply choose familiar objects or even the lightest objects; rather, when exposed to UV radiation they selected intermediate-sized objects, perhaps demonstrating a trade-off between the energetic costs of carrying objects and the physiological costs of exposure to UV radiation. While there appear to be many reasons for why urchins cover, these results indicate that urchin covering is non-random and has important functional significance.
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