by Piter Kehoma Boll
No other species in the world eats such a great diversity of food types as humans do. And among all the things we eat, some are much more valuable than others, and one of those precious foods is the meat of Panulirus versicolor, the painted spiny lobster.
Also known as the painted rock lobster or blue spiny lobster, this crustacean can measure up to 40 cm in length and, like all spiny lobsters, has a pair of very large and spiny antennae and lacks the large chelae (claws) on the first pair of walking legs, which are typical of the true lobsters. Its color pattern is very complex and includes a lot of black and white marks on the legs, the cephalothorax and the posterior border of each abdominal segment. The large antennae have a pinkish color at the thicker base and are whitish after that.
The painted spiny lobster is found in coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region, from South Africa to Polynesia. It is a voracious carnivore, feeding on carcasses but also actively hunting other crustaceans and eventually fish. They are nocturnal, remaining during the day hidden in rock shelters called dens and leaving at night to capture other benthos (i.e., species that move across the sea floor). Although they do not have a complex social structure, painted spiny lobsters can share the same den if there is room enough and they apparently prefer to do so, even though the groups do not remain together as most individuals move to a new den every few days. The way they share the dens is not random, though. Female painted spiny lobsters share dens more often than would happen by chance but two males are never found together in the same den. Thus, even large dens which can house seven or more spiny lobsters will have at maximum one male.
Males and females are about the same size and become sexually mature when their carapace measures about 8 to 9 cm in length, which occurs when they are about 4 years old. After mating, a female can produce hundreds of thousands of eggs in a single brood. As they live in tropical waters, they can mate more than once a year.
Throughout its range, the painted spiny lobster is considered a valuable food in many countries, especially Kenya, India, Palau, New Guinea and Australia. It is, indeed, one of the most consumed spiny lobsters in the Indo-Pacific region. However, there are few studies on the impact that harvesting it can have on the ecosystems, although it is expected that most spiny-lobster fishers should know that immature individuals should not be captured in order to ensure the species’ survival.
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Frisch AJ (2007) Growth and reproduction of the painted spiny lobster (Panulirus versicolor) on the Great Barrier Reef (Australia). Fisheries Research 85:61–67. doi: 10.1016/j.fishres.2006.12.001
Frisch AJ (2007) Short- and long-term movements of painted lobster (Panulirus versicolor) on a coral reef at Northwest Island, Australia. Coral Reefs 26:311–317. doi: 10.1007/s00338-006-0194-6
Frisch AJ (2008) Social organisation and den utilisation of painted spiny lobster (Panulirus versicolor) on a coral reef at Northwest Island, Australia. Marine and Freshater Research 59:521–528. doi: 10.1071/MF06110
Vijayakumaran M, Maharajan A, Rajalakshmi S, Jayagopal P, Subramanian MS, Remani MC (2012) Fecundity and viability of eggs in wild breeders of spiny lobsters, Panulirus homarus (Linnaeus, 1758), Panulirus versicolor (Latreille, 1804) and Panulirus ornatus (Fabricius, 1798). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India 54: 18–22.
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** This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.