Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)
In Bermuda lobster season opens on September 1st, so it seems appropriate to dedicate our first ‘Species Spotlight’ to the Spiny Lobster. Spiny Lobsters are found from North Carolina to Brazil, and throughout the Caribbean. Bermuda is the northern-most extent of their range. The Spiny Lobster looks different from a New England Lobster as it does not have the giant claws that its American relative is famous for.
Spiny Lobsters, like other crustaceans, have their skeleton on the outside of their body - it is called an ‘exoskeleton’. They grow by molting their too-small skeleton and producing a new, larger one. The old skeleton cracks and the lobster climbs out, then puffs itself up with seawater and waits for its new larger skeleton to harden. Lobsters can also grow new legs or antennae if they lose one.
Lobsters keep growing as they get older, so the bigger a lobster is the older it is. Also the larger a female lobster gets the more eggs she will lay. The female lobster carries her orange eggs around under her tail until they are ready to hatch. For this reason, female lobsters have an extra pair of ‘swimming legs’ under their tail. In Bermuda, Spiny Lobsters mate from mid-April to mid-May. In June the female lobsters move to the edge of the reef platform and release their eggs. Each lobster releases nearly a million eggs, but only a few will survive to become adults.
The tiny eggs drift as plankton then hatch into spidery-looking baby lobsters. The babies drift and grow for about a year then settle in seagrass beds or mangrove roots to grow up. The settled babies look like small lobsters, and spend a year hiding in the vegetation, before moving out onto the reef to join the adults. Adult lobsters live in holes in the reef, under rocks or inside shipwrecks.
During the day lobsters hide in the reef with only their antennae poking out, but at night they come out and actively search for food. They aren’t picky and will eat whatever they come across. Lobsters eat small conchs, clams, snails and they will scavenge dead animals and fish. Adult lobsters are eaten by octopus, sharks, many kinds of fish, and people.
Spiny lobsters are known to migrate from shallow to deep water in the autumn by walking single-file in a long line across the reef platform. They keep together by touching the lobster in front with their antennae.
For further information on lobster regulations see sections 16 and 21 of the Fisheries Regulations 2010. For information on obtaining a lobster diving licence please contact the Dept. of Environmental Protection.