Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus (Biological information) – Video

Video credit: Glenda Vélez Calabria (Colombia)      Description: Abdel Rahman El Gamal

This video was taken in mundo marino and te mostramos lo que pasa en el fondo, Colombia

Introduction: Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus is a species of spiny lobster that inhabits tropical and subtropical waters and has a broad geographic range from Bermuda and east coast USA, Brazil, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The species has several common names for the species including spiny lobster, Bermuda spiny lobster, common spiny lobster, Florida spiny lobster, West Indian langouste, West Indian spiny lobster, Langouste Blanche (in French) and Langosta Común del Caribe (in Spanish). Even though individuals of 20 years have been recorded, the species longevity is about 12 years. The Caribbean spiny lobster is a nocturnal species.

Habitats: Individuals of the Caribbean spiny lobster can be found at depths of about 30 m or even greater based on the seasonal variation in the water temperature. They could also be found in shallower tropical and sub-tropical waters. In general, they prefer habitats with some sort of cover such as coral reefs, artificial reefs, seagrass, sponges, which serve also as shelters.

Reproduction and life history: Sexual maturity in females is reached at about 2 years as their length of carapace measures about 54–80 mm. The spawning occurs when water temperature exceeds 23 °C. The size at maturity may vary with localities; estimates for size at 50% maturity were found 81 mm in Cuba and to 92 mm in Colombia.
Caribbean spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus, are characterized by external fertilization in which the males pass a thick spermatophore to the females that fertilize their eggs. Fertilized eggs are externally carried by the female until they become hard and black. At this stage, the females deposit their eggs in protected places where they hatch into free-swimming microscopic phyllosoma larvae.

After series of molts, the larvae migrate and settle and live in algae, seagrass beds, among mangrove roots or holes or crevices in the coral reefs. This species molts about four times/year whereas the timing of moulting is affected by water temperature.
Typically, the adults of this lobster are of about 10 cm from the tip of the antennae to the tail. However, individuals may reach about 45 cm with a weight of about 4.5 kg after a longer period of about 20 years. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism whereas male lobster grows faster than females.

Defense mechanisms: The spines that cover the lobster’s shell are the primary defense of the species against possible predators. When the spiny lobsters are attacked, the whole group will come together in a defensive front and stick their spiny antennae straight up at the predator. These lobsters also use their antennae in making a rough noise to keep predators away. Caribbean spiny lobsters are highly vulnerable to predation during their molting and they preyed upon by skates, nurse sharks, octopus, snappers, moray eels, and groupers.

Food habits: Caribbean spiny lobsters feed primarily on gastropods, chitons, bivalves, detritus, vegetable material, dead animals and fish whenever available on the ocean floor. The species is nocturnal as they hide during the day from predators while at night; they come out to search for food. Using powerful mouths they break open shellfish and sea urchins for food.

Fishery, economic importance, and consumption: Caribbean spiny lobsters, is a popular seafood item for human consumption. It is also the most important food export of the Bahamas. While divers catch the lobster by a gloved hand, in commercially fishing, the lobsters are caught with baited traps. Because of the high market value of the spiny lobster, the species has been under the threat of over-exploitation whether for recreation or for the commercial fishery. It is estimated that the catch of the species has declined by about 50% in the Caribbean. This has called for conservation measures.
Conservation action: Applied governing regulations vary and could include any or all of the minimum size upon harvest, closed season for safeguarding the reproduction and the protection of offsprings. The prohibition of the taking of berried females has been often enforced.

References: Wikipedia, IUCN, Natural History Museum, and Marinebio

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