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Jen Wortham
Jen Wortham, Ph.D.
Professor of Exercise Science

1995 University of Tampa, B.S. Biology, B.S. Marine Science, Minor Chemistry, Research Mentor: Wayne Price
2001 University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Advisor: Raymond T. Bauer
Dissertation Titled: "The influence of social interactions and reproductive morphology on the mating behaviors of a spearer mantis shrimp, Squilla empusa"

Research Interests

Jen Wortham's research interests focus on the behaviors of marine animals, especially crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. She has also published research on human behaviors related to displaying and attractiveness. She observes interactions between males and females, as well as between individuals of the same sex, and applies principles of evolutionary biology to help understand and theorize the purpose of the behaviors. Additionally, documenting the morphology and working with crustaceans that change as adults has been a focus for the last 15 years. Wortham has published fishery research on mantis shrimp abundance and distribution in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as several papers on the grooming behaviors of shrimps and crabs. She has worked on Macrobrachium shrimps, spider crabs, stone crabs, ghost crabs, fiddler crabs and blue crabs. Wortham often uses the scanning electron microscope to look at the morphology of grooming appendages in crustaceans. 

Selected research topics that Wortham has investigated are:

Squilla empusa
Squilla empusa — a mantis shrimp
Two types of setae
Two types of setae on the palp grooming appendage in blue crabs
Setae on spider crabs
Setae on spider crabs used in camouflaging.
  • Freshwater shrimp grooming and agonistic behaviors
  • Decorating behaviors and setal morphologies of spider crabs
  • Habitat selection and grooming behaviors in stomatopods
  • Crustacean by-catch and fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Resource defense in spearer mantis shrimp
  • Agonistic interactions (aggressive or defensive social interactions between members of the same species) in spearer mantis shrimps
  • Reproductive morphology of stomatopods
  • Embryonic development and reproductive behaviors of mysid crustaceans 
  • Morphology of grooming structures in Macrobrachium and Lysmata shrimps
  • Grooming behaviors and morphology of spider, stone and blue crabs
  • How familiarity in hair color impacts mate selection
  • College student happiness and retention
  • Setal morphology in spider crabs

Questions that behavioral biology can help address:

  1. How does reproductive morphology influence behavioral interactions between opposite-sexed individuals?
  2. How does the need for resource influence behavior between same-sexed and opposite-sexed individuals?
  3. How do same-sexed agonistic interactions differ from opposite-sexed interactions?
  4. Do males and females (as well as different species) differ in their grooming behaviors in terms of frequency and areas groomed?
  5. Do males differ from other males in their preferred habitat?
  6. What is the energy budget of crustaceans for performing different behavioral actions?
  7. Does morphology vary between individuals in the same genus and those that are closely related phylogenetically?
  8. Is grooming a secondary action that only occurs when primary actions (fighting, displaying, etc.) are absent? If so, what is the time budget for grooming?
  9. Do crustaceans have similar time budgets for grooming or do certain groups groom more than others?
  10. Are we attracted to individuals with the same hair color as our parents and how does this familiarity influence our mate choices?

Spider Crab Libinia  Grooming time budgets bar graph
Grooming time budgets of shrimps and crabs

Hair Patch on male macrobrachium
The "hair patch" of a male Macrobrachium that occurs on their large cheliped. Males and femalies have a different morphology of the setae on this appendage.

Student research photo

Maggie Dakin ’22 presents research on grooming behaviors in ghost and fiddler crabs.  Maggie observed ghost crabs “playing dead” as a strategy for ending agonistic interactions.

Selected Research Projects with Undergraduates:

  1. Decorating crabs, also called spider crabs Libinia dubia, have setae used to attach the camouflaging material. Do these setae need to be cleaned? Do crabs groom their bodies like shrimps? No study before had looked at the grooming behaviors in any crab and the morphology of the grooming appendages of crabs was unknown. Wortham has worked with two recently graduated (2015) UT students, Jace Jedlicka and Amanda LaValle, on these projects and two manuscripts have been published.
  2. Stone crabs and blue crabs have a large fishery. However, no study had looked at the grooming behaviors of these crabs. Can they groom with only one claw? Do they groom similarly because they live in similar habitats? Do they groom with the same appendages? Do they have similar setae to clean their bodies as other crustaceans? Wortham worked with a marine biology undergraduate student to answer these questions. An undergraduate student (Stephanie Pascual; marine biology major; graduated 2017) worked with Wortham and she presented this research at several conferences and even won the American Microscopy Society Award for her work at the international meeting (SICB, 2017).  Two manscripts were published from this research.
  3. Distribution and abundance of mantis shrimp in the Tampa Bay area. The research literature has not documented the fauna of mantis shrimp and their impact on the sediment quality and overall quality of the marine environment. This project is likely to be a joint project the UT Department of Biology, a researcher from the Florida Department of Marine Resources, and use the new marine research boat located at the Department of Biology Marine Research Station. It would involve collecting benthic fauna from many habitats in the bay and determining where and how many mantis shrimp are located in the area (possible study for a new research student).
  4. Hair color choice in humans has been studied in past literature but the results were inconclusive and often conflicting. With an undergraduate student (Daniela Delvescovo) and another faculty member (Abraham Miller), a large hair color choice study was conducted with over N=2000 participants that looked at hair color choice in males and females, as well as in different socioeconomic groups and in different geographic regions. Two publications resulted from this work.

Sample poster presentations:

Selected recent publications 

Wortham, J. L. 2021.  Setal descriptions, locations, and abundances: Their impacts on decorating behaviors in the spider crab Libinia (Crustacea: Epialtidae). Journal of Morphology282(12): 1801-1817.

Wortham, J. L. & L. VanMaurik. 2020. Gill fouling in the economically important freshwater shrimp Macrobrachium rosenbergii (De Man, 1879) (Caridea: Palaemonidae). Journal of Crustacean Biology. 40: 17-23.

Miller, A., Delvescovo, D., & J. L. Wortham. 2019. Male and female hair color preferences: a comparison between two local (Tampa Bay area, Florida) university populations. Florida Scientist. 82 (4): 101-111.

Baeza, J. A, Liu, X., Kostecka, L., & J. L. Wortham. April 2019. Active parental care in the peppermint shrimp Lysmata boggessi: the effect of embryo age, circadian cycle, and implications for sex allocation in simultaneous hermaphrodites.  Marine Biology. 166: 132 (13 pages plus one supplemental figure).

Wortham, J. L. & J. Jedlicka. 2019. Grooming behaviors and fouling of the spider crab Libinia dubia (Decapoda: Epialtidae).  Nauplius. 27: 1–17.

Wortham, J. L. & S. Pascual. 2019.  Setal morphology of grooming appendages in blue crabs Callinectes sapidus (Rathbun, 1896) and stone crabs Menippe mercenaria (Say, 1818) (Decapoda: Brachyura: Portunidae, Menippidae). Journal of Crustacean Biology. 39: 357-377 (plus 3 supplemental figures).

Wortham, J.L & L.G. Kostecka.  2019.  Grooming behaviors and setal morphologies in smasher and spearer mantis shrimps (Stomatopoda).  Journal of Crustacean Biology.  39: 11-21.

Wortham, J.L., A. Miller, & D. Delvescovo.  2018.  Male and female hair color preferences:  influences of familiarity, geographic region of origin, and environment on mate attraction in University of Tampa students.  Florida Scientist.  81(1):  33-54.