Spiny lobster

Palinurus elephas

 

Spiny Lobster (Palinurus elephas) © Paul KaySpiny lobsters have only small, hook-like claws.  Their common name comes from the sharp spines all over their heavy, orange-brown shells.  This armour has to be shed when the lobster grows, leaving them vulnerable to predators until their new shell has hardened.

Spiny lobsters are found near the coast and offshore to 70m deep, in seascapes of bedrock and boulders.  They are mostly active at night.  During the day, it is often only the tip of an antenna poking out from a cave or beneath an overhang that alerts divers to their presence.

Once fished with pots and tangle nets, spiny lobsters are no longer a target fishery because of dwindling numbers, but are sometimes landed when fishing for other animals.  The number of spiny lobsters caught has been falling (in some cases dramatically), the animals that are caught tend to be smaller, and they seem to have disappeared entirely from areas of south-west England in which they were common during the 1970s.  This all suggests that there are no longer as many spiny lobsters as there used to be, with over-fishing and environmental conditions both possibly to blame.

To help protect spiny lobsters only mature animals, those with a body length larger that 11cm, can be landed legally. Research from the Mediterranean suggests that spiny lobster numbers recover well in Marine Protected Areas, and that this helps to support neighbouring spiny lobster fisheries.

 

Other common names

European spiny lobster

Crayfish

Crawfish

 

European distribution

Spiny lobsters are found on the south and west coasts of the British Isles, with the main populations confined to the extreme south-west coasts of England and Wales, and the west coasts of Scotland, and Ireland.  They are also found as far south as the Azores, as well as in the western Mediterranean, and the Adriatic and Aegean Seas.

 

Conservation status/need

  • Spiny Lobster FactThis is a UK BAP Priority Species (BAP species are now Species of Principal Importance/Priority Species).
  • Species of principal importance for the purpose of conservation of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

 

Further information

Encyclopedia of Marine Life of Britain and Ireland

Marine Life Information Network

Marine Lobsters of the World

World Register of Marine Species

JNCC - UK BAP Priority Species and Habitats