Spiny lobster

"Rock lobster" redirects here. For the B-52's song, see Rock Lobster. For other uses, see Rock Lobster (disambiguation).
Spiny lobsters
Temporal range: 110–0 Ma
Panulirus interruptus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Infraorder: Achelata
Family: Palinuridae
Latreille, 1802

Spiny lobsters, also known as langouste or rock lobsters, are a family (Palinuridae) of about 60 species of achelate crustaceans, in the Decapoda Reptantia. Spiny lobsters are also, especially in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Bahamas, sometimes called crayfish, sea crayfish, or crawfish ("kreef" in South Africa), terms which elsewhere are reserved for freshwater crayfish.[1]


The furry lobsters (e.g. Palinurellus) were previously separated into a family of their own, the Synaxidae, but are usually considered members of the Palinuridae.[2] The slipper lobsters (Scyllaridae) are their next-closest relatives, and these two or three families make up the Achelata.[2] Genera of spiny lobsters include Palinurus and a number of anagrams thereof:[3] Panulirus, Linuparus, etc. (Palinurus was also a helmsman in Virgil's Æneid.) In total, 12 extant genera are recognised, containing around 60 living species:[4][5]


Although they superficially resemble true lobsters in terms of overall shape and having a hard carapace and exoskeleton, the two groups are not closely related. Spiny lobsters can be easily distinguished from true lobsters by their very long, thick, spiny antennae, by the lack of chelae (claws) on the first four pairs of walking legs, although the females of most species have a small claw on the fifth pair,[6] and by a particularly specialized larval phase called phyllosoma. True lobsters have much smaller antennae and claws on the first three pairs of legs, with the first being particularly enlarged.

Spiny lobsters have typically a slightly compressed carapace, lacking any lateral ridges. Their antennae lack a scaphocerite, the flattened exopod of the antenna. This is fused to the epistome (a plate between the labrum and the basis of the antenna). The flagellum, at the top of the antenna, is stout, tapering, and very long. The ambulatory legs (pereopods) end in claws (chelae).[7]

Fossil record

The fossil record of spiny lobsters has been extended by the discovery in 1995 of a 110-million-year-old fossil near El Espiñal in Chiapas, Mexico. Workers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico have named the fossil Palinurus palaecosi, and report that it is closest to members of the genus Palinurus currently living off the coasts of Africa.[8]


Fishing for Panulirus argus in Venezuela

Spiny lobsters are found in almost all warm seas, including the Caribbean and the Mediterranean Sea, but are particularly common in Australasia, where they are referred to commonly as crayfish or sea crayfish (Jasus edwardsii),[9] and in South Africa (Jasus lalandii).

Spiny lobsters tend to live in crevices of rocks and coral reefs, only occasionally venturing out at night to seek snails, clams, sea-hares,[10] crabs, or sea urchins to eat. Sometimes, they migrate in very large groups in long files of lobsters across the sea floor. These lines may be more than 50 lobsters long. Spiny lobsters navigate using the smell and taste of natural substances in the water that change in different parts of the ocean. It was recently discovered that spiny lobsters can also navigate by detecting the Earth's magnetic field.[11] They keep together by contact, using their long antennae.[12] Potential predators may be deterred from eating spiny lobsters by a loud screech made by the antennae of the spiny lobsters rubbing against a smooth part of the exoskeleton.[13] Spiny lobsters usually exhibit the social habit of being together. However recent studies indicate that healthy lobsters move away from infected ones, leaving the diseased lobsters to fend for themselves.[14]

Like true lobsters, spiny lobsters are edible and are an economically significant food source; they are the biggest food export of the Bahamas, for instance.[15]


Many spiny lobsters produce rasping sounds to repel predators by rubbing the "plectrum" at the base of the spiny lobster's antennae against a "file". The noise is produced by frictional vibrations - sticking and slipping, similar to rubber materials sliding against hard surfaces. While a number of insects use frictional vibration mechanisms to generate sound, this particular acoustic mechanism is unique in the animal kingdom. Significantly, the system does not rely on the hardness of the exoskeleton, as many other arthropod sounds do, meaning that the spiny lobsters can continue to produce the deterrent noises even in the period following a moult when they are most vulnerable.[16] The stridulating organ is present in all but three genera in the family (Jasus, Projasus, and the furry lobster Palinurellus),[17] and its form can distinguish different species.[18]


  1. Harold W. Sims Jr. (1965). "Let's call the spiny lobster "spiny lobster"". Crustaceana. 8 (1): 109–110. doi:10.1163/156854065X00613. JSTOR 20102626.
  2. 1 2 Ferran Palero, Keith A. Crandall, Pere Abelló, Enrique Macpherson & Marta Pascual (2009). "Phylogenetic relationships between spiny, slipper and coral lobsters (Crustacea, Decapoda, Achelata)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 50: 152–162. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.10.003. PMID 18957325.
  3. R. N. Lipcius & D. B. Eggleston (2000). "Introduction: Eecology and fishery biology of spiny lobsters". In Bruce F. Phillips & J. Kittaka. Spiny Lobsters: Fisheries and Culture (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 1–42. ISBN 978-0-85238-264-6.
  4. Shane T. Ahyong, James K. Lowry, Miguel Alonso, Roger N. Bamber, Geoffrey A. Boxshall, Peter Castro, Sarah Gerken, Gordan S. Karaman, Joseph W. Goy, Diana S. Jones, Kenneth Meland, D. Christopher Rogers & Jörundur Svavarsson (2011). "Subphylum Crustacea Brünnich, 1772" (PDF). In Z.-Q. Zhang. Animal biodiversity: an outline of higher-level classification and survey of taxonomic richness. Zootaxa. 3148. pp. 165–191.
  5. Michael Türkay (2011). "Palinuridae". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  6. Lipke Holthuis (1991). "Glossary". FAO species catalogue Vol. 13: Marine Lobsters of the World. Food and Agriculture Organization. ISBN 92-5-103027-8.
  7. P. J. Hayward & J. S. Ryland (1996). Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford University Press. p. 430. ISBN 0-19-854055-8.
  8. Victoria Jaggard (May 3, 2007). "Photo in the news: oldest lobster fossil found in Mexico". National Geographic.
  9. Sue Wesson (2005). "Murni Dhungang Jirrar Living in the Illawarra - Aboriginal people and wild resource use" (PDF). Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. p. 22.
  10. Derby, Charles D.; Kicklighter, Cynthia E.; Johnson, P. M. & Xu Zhang (29 March 2007). "Chemical Composition of Inks of Diverse Marine Molluscs Suggests Convergent Chemical Defenses" (PDF). Journal of Chemical Ecology. 2007 (33): 1105–1113. doi:10.1007/s10886-007-9279-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2007. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  11. John D. Cutnell & Kenneth W. Johnson (2007). Physics (7th ed.). p. 1088. ISBN 978-0-471-66315-7.
  12. The Miles Kelly Book of Life. Great Bardfield, Essex: Miles Kelly Publishing. 2006.
  13. John Roach (July 28, 2004). "Decoding spiny lobsters' violin-like screech". National Geographic News.
  14. "Lobsters have innate way to stay healthy, ODU researchers say in Nature article". Old Dominion University News. May 24, 2006. Archived from the original on September 10, 2006.
  15. "The 'spiny' focus of fisheries". InternationalReports.net. 2003. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008.
  16. S. N. Patek & J. E. Baio (2007). "The acoustic mechanics of stick-slip friction in the California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus)" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Biology. 210 (20): 3538–3546. doi:10.1242/jeb.009084. PMID 17921155.
  17. Lipke Holthuis (1991). FAO species catalogue Vol. 13: Marine Lobsters of the World. Food and Agriculture Organization. ISBN 92-5-103027-8.
  18. Adam Summers (2001). "The Lobster's Violin". American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
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