Caribbean Spiny Lobster

A Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) emerges onto a coral reef in late afternoon. Photo taken by Dr. Alexander Mustard. More photos like this can be found on his website:

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Family: Palinuridae
Genus: Panulirus
Species: Panulirus argus

Originally, I was going to write a post about the Spiny Lobster, but then I realized that there are at least two species with that common name. One lives in the Atlantic and the other in the Pacific. Today, I’ll be talking about the Caribbean spiny lobster, or Panulirus argus.

P. argus can be found around coral reefs, seagrass beds, and rocky areas off the coast from North Carolina to Brazil, in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.

These guys are a combination of tan, black, and white, with large white spots across their spiny bodies. They also have two long antennae and large, forward-facing eyes.

Unlike other lobsters, the Caribbean spiny lobster’s claws are not terribly large and don’t cause a lot of damage. However, these guys are not without their defenses. The carapace—the body of the lobster and not the tail—is covered with small spikes and can cause injury to anyone who tries to pick up these guys barehanded. So, swimmers, don’t touch them!

These guys start out rather tiny as larvae. In fact, they’re considered zooplankton and are food for numerous fish. If a larvae survives, it eventually can grow to about 2 ft. long, though not without getting rid of its old exoskeletons a few times all the way.

P. argus are considered to be omnivores, though they primarily feed on bivalves and gastropods, and they have been seen eating other things as well.

I think the coolest thing about these guys is their mass migrations. In autumn, P. argus will be seen walking in long, single-file lines to deeper waters during the day; in theory, to find cooler areas and more food.

I’ve seen Caribbean spiny lobsters most often at fresh fish markets, though I’ve seen them a few times during some of my dives. They’re really important to coastal economics, because a lot of coastal areas will hunt them and export their sought-after meat to other countries.

Unfortunately, this means that this species can become victim of overfishing, and population numbers can be wiped out completely. There is no conclusive data on the status of their populations as a whole and whether or not the species may become threatened by extinction, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful.

If regulations aren’t put into place, then entire populations can be wiped out, and many small countries that rely on their export will suddenly be faced with an economic crisis.

Reef Creature Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas 3rd edition by Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach, and Les Wilk


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