Thursday, October 6, 2016

You asked I respond. In this blog, I will discuss the mating habits, characteristics, and anatomy of Caribbean lobsters. I will finish up with the variations of lobsters in the VI. However, in my next blog, I will talk about the Virgin Islands lobster laws. I will also include a little about what is desirable and what isn’t. So here it is the Virgin Islands Lobster Primer.
I have personally seen 6 different species of lobster here. They fall into 2 categories, Langouste or spiny lobsters and Slipper lobsters. While I will talk more about these later, they all have a few things in common. These lobsters are all closely related to each other but very distantly related to the lobsters with claws we are used to seeing in the North Atlantic. “Maine” lobsters evolved about 30,000,000 years before our lobsters walked the earth.
All of these lobsters have 3 distinct features. They all have a tail. They all have a carapace under which are attached 10 legs making them decapods. They all have antennae and not large claws. While the spiny lobsters have long thin antennae the slipper lobsters are broad and flat, plate like if you will. They also have smaller forked antennae closer to the centerline which are used to taste the water for chemicals. Recent studies suggest they may also be used to sense slight electromagnetic anomalies beneath the sand that could signify food as well.
As we will discuss in the fishing laws next week it is important to bring all pieces of a lobster back. If you have never noticed, the blood of a lobster is an extremely sticky glue like substance. These smaller receptors can find this substance stuck to rocks and coral and make a great lobster hole useless. The lobsters will know that another lobster has been injured there and won’t return there to molt or reproduce.
The next time you are swimming along and find what appears to be a dead lobster on the bottom turn it over an examine it. If the insides appear to be black or moldy then yes Virginia you may have found a dead lobster. But more than likely you will see a clean looking pale orange to light brown coloration. This is because lobsters molt their exoskeleton. Exoskeleton means they have no bones on the inside. Their skeleton is on the outside. As the lobster starts to outgrow its shell, a new soft pliable and expandable shell will start to form underneath. When it is ready the outer shell will start to let go from the tail near the carapace first. Then, as it comes fully loose, the lobster will back out of the carapace and walk away to a sheltered hiding place to let the new shell fully expand and become hard again. This is one reason we find lobsters hiding in overhangs and holes. It protects them while the shell hardens.

The other main reason we find lobsters hiding in such secret places is reproduction. It provides excellent cover for the female to move to the opening and irrigate the eggs while she is incubating them. If trouble appears she only needs to back up a foot or so and the aggressor can’t get to her. On the underside of a male lobster between the last two legs you will see 2 scrub brushes. These are the male sex organs. The female has two flat spots in the same location. When they mate the male literally paints two sperm patches that are a dark gray or black in color and sometimes merge together on these flat places. The last leg on each side of the female has a small claw that sticks out resembling a thumb. When she drops her orange hair like strands of eggs, she uses this claw to scrape off the sperm and inseminate the eggs herself. As the eggs mature into jelly like strands, she can pick out the dead ones and help to prevent disease, parasites, and fungus from overtaking healthy ones using this special claw.

As I said in the beginning I have personally identified 6 different lobster species here. The first 3 are from the Palinuridae family. These are the spiny or langouste lobsters. They include:
The Caribbean Spiny Lobster which is the easiest one to spot and most often hunted.
The Spotted Lobster which resembles the spiny but is much smaller and tastier.
The last is the Copper Lobster which I could not find a great picture of.  These resemble the other two but are much smaller, about 5” long. I have seen only exoskeletons during the day but I have seen 2 on night dives as they are nocturnal. They are a brighter yellow in color.
I often hear divers say “I saw a slipper lobster on that dive”. They are right but they are wrong. Most commonly they saw the first member of the Scyllaridae family. These are the slipper lobsters. They include:
The Spanish Lobster. The most common in VI waters.
The Regal Slipper Lobster. Certainly the most colorful.

The Sculpted or Sculptured Slipper Lobster.

The next time you see a lobster you will know a lot more about what you are seeing. When you get back on the dive boat I hope you too will share some of this information with your new diving friends. Next week I will share the VI lobster regulations and talk about hunting, preparing and cooking lobster.

Until next time always make your total number of ascents equal your total number of descents.
Your really cool blogger,

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