Panulirus argusCaribbean spiny lobster

Geographic Range

Caribbean spiny lobsters live in western Atlantic tropical and subtropical waters, ranging from North Carolina (including Bermuda) to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the Caribbean. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; "Marine lobsters of the world: An annotated and illustrated catalogue of marine lobsters known to date", 1991; Williams, 1984)


Adult caribbean spiny lobsters are benthic, living at depths up to 90 m. Larvae are pelagic, moving into nearshore habitats as they grow. Juveniles are found in vegetation, particularly in macroalgae and occasionally in large sponges. Adults are found offshore, often in coral reefs, rocks, and eelgrass beds. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Marine lobsters of the world: An annotated and illustrated catalogue of marine lobsters known to date", 1991; Butler, et al., 2005; Butler, et al., 2011; Williams, 1984)

  • Range depth
    0 to 90 m
    0.00 to 295.28 ft

Physical Description

Caribbean spiny lobsters grow to approximately 45 cm in length, with an average of 20 cm. They grow throughout their lives and individuals close to 60 cm long have (rarely) been found. Average weight can range from 51-251 gm. At 20 years of age, individuals may weigh as much as 4.5 kg. These lobsters have small spikes covering the carapace. Although males and females are typically the same length, males tend to have longer carapaces. Adults have two long antennae (longer than the carapace), antennules (small antennae, about two-thirds of the body length), and large eyes at the front of the head. They have pleopods, which aid in swimming, and claws (quite different from the large, pinching claws of Atlantic lobsters (Homarus americanus)). Caribbean spiny lobsters range from red to brown and blue in color. Adult lobsters have brown, white, or yellow spots on their tails and orange-yellow and black stripes on their tail fans. Their legs are striped with blue. Juveniles are purple in color. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; "Panulirus argus (Caribbean spiny lobster)", 2012; Butler, et al., 2005; Perera, et al., 2007; Williams, 1984)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range mass
    0.51 to 4.5 kg
    1.12 to 9.91 lb
  • Range length
    45 (high) cm
    17.72 (high) in
  • Average length
    20 cm
    7.87 in


Eggs are bright orange and darken in color as embryos develop. They usually hatch within 3 weeks of fertilization and, until hatching, adhere to the female's pleopods. The female keeps her eggs well aerated and cleaned by using a pumping action of her pleopods. Flat, leaf-shaped planktonic phyllosoma larvae hatch and are propelled away from the female by flexation of her abdomen. They float on ocean currents, eventually moving into shallower areas with seagrass. They migrate vertically throughout the day, into shallower waters at night and deeper waters during daylight hours. Larvae undergo 11 distinct phyllosoma stages, by which they metamorphose into pueruli, which resemble adults but are smaller (about 34 mm at metamorphosis), colorless, and do not feed or possess hard exoskeletons. After approximately 6 months, they molt and metamorphose into juvenile lobsters. Juveniles are solitary and usually benthic. Throughout their lives, these lobsters molt as they get larger. A new shell shows signs of hardening within 12 days but is not completely hard until about 28 days later. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; McGaw, 2009; Shapiro, 2012; Williams, 1984; Ziegler and Forward, 2007)


Male Caribbean spiny lobsters mate with many females, while the females only mate with one male during a single reproductive episode (if they mate a second time in a season, however, it is not necessarily with the same male). A male seeks out a female and when he finds her, he uses his front legs to gently coax her out of her shelter. The lobsters then lie belly-to-belly and the male releases a spermatophore onto the female's tail or underside of her belly. She breaks the spermatophore open when the eggs are ready to be fertilized. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; Frisch, 2008; Williams, 1984; Ziegler and Forward, 2007)

Caribbean spiny Lobsters mate from March through June or June through November, depending on the population's geographical location. A female releases 500,000 to 2 million eggs, once or twice each season. When eggs are ready to be fertilized, a female will scratch open the spermatophore deposited by the male, resulting in external fertilization (some consider this a form of delayed fertilization). A female carries fertilized eggs on her pleopods for about a month, until they are ready to hatch; during this time she is consdiered gravid or berried. Increasing embryonic pheromone levels indicate readiness to hatch and trigger more vigorous pleopodal pumping by the female, helping the eggs to hatch. It is estimated that these lobsters reach maturity by two years of age (70-80 mm in length). ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster - Panulirus argus", 2012; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; McGaw, 2009; Shapiro, 2012; Williams, 1984; Ziegler and Forward, 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Caribbean spiny lobsters mate at least once a year. If they mate a second time, it is typically 1 week after a brood of eggs hatches.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is March-June or June-November, depending on geography.
  • Range number of offspring
    500,00 to 2,000,000
  • Average gestation period
    1 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

After fertilization, female Caribbean spiny lobsters carry fertilized eggs on their pleopods until hatching, at which time larvae are independent. Males do not exhibit any parental investment beyond production of gametes. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster - Panulirus argus", 2012; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; Frisch, 2008; Williams, 1984; Ziegler and Forward, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female


It is estimated that these lobsters live 12-20 years in the wild; age is typically estimated by size. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster - Panulirus argus", 2012; Maxwell, et al., 2007; Shapiro, 2012)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 years


These lobsters exhibit a pattern of mass migration to deeper waters in single file lines during daytime hours of autumn months. Up to 50 lobsters may be in any one line and each animal maintains contact with the next by using their antennae. This migration may be in order to locate more favorable temperatures or food sources. They are primarily nocturnal, hiding in rock or coral crevices during the day. Caribbean spiny lobsters also molt, shedding their exoskeletons and allowing for growth. When the lobsters have just molted they are extremely vulnerable to predation, so they stay hidden in the reef to avoid predators. In Floridian populations, these lobsters molt twice a year, from March through July and from December through January; molting patterns vary depending on locality and other populations are known to molt as many as four times a year. Motling frequency declines with age/size. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; Shapiro, 2012; Williams, 1984)

Home Range

There is currently no published information regarding the home range and territory size of this species. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; "Marine lobsters of the world: An annotated and illustrated catalogue of marine lobsters known to date", 1991)

Communication and Perception

Caribbean spiny lobsters use their antennules to sense water movements as well as olfactory cues; females, for example, detect levels of pheromones produced by developing embryos to judge time to hatching. They also have large compound eyes, which sense light, color, and movement. They use their antennae to create sounds by rubbing plates at the bases of their eyes, deterring predators. These lobsters can also detect magnetic fields, which they use during migration. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; Roach, 2004; Williams, 1984; Ziegler and Forward, 2007)

Food Habits

Caribbean spiny lobsters are foragers and feed primarily on gastropods, bivalves, and chitons. They also eat carrion and other organisms like crustaceans, worms, and sea urchins. They are considered ominvorous, as there are records of them occasionally eating vegetation. When feeding on animals with shells, Caribbean spiny lobsters use their front legs to bring food close to them and then crush it with their mandibles. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; Shapiro, 2012)

  • Animal Foods
  • carrion
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • echinoderms
  • other marine invertebrates


Many animals feed on these lobsters and their larvae. Predators of juvenile and adult lobsters include sharks, rays, skates, sea turtles, moray eels, octopuses, crustaceans, and fishes. Humans also catch and consume these lobsters. Caribbean spiny lobsters avoid predation by hiding in crevices or spaces in reefs. When predators approach these lobsters, they use their antennae to defend themselves. They rub a plectrum, which is a nub like structure found on their antennae, against plates below their eyes. The result is a screeching sound that plays a role in their defense against predators, possibly scaring them away. This is known as the "stick and slip" mechanism. Additionally, they may flip their tails forward, thrusting them quickly in another direction, if threatened. This behavior is known as a "tail flip," and is usually only seen in open areas. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; Roach, 2004; Shapiro, 2012; Smith and Herrkind, 1992)

Ecosystem Roles

Beyond their roles as predators and prey, these lobsters may be infected with a pathogenic virus, PaV1 (Panulirus argus virus 1), the first known naturally occurring virus of a lobster, as well as a number of parasites, bacteria, and fungi. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus", 2012; Shields, 2011)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Panulirus argus virus 1
  • Aerococcus viridans (Class Bacili, Phylum Firmicutes)
  • Leucothrix mucor (Class Gammaproteobacteria, Phylum Proteobacteria)
  • Vibrio alginolyticus (Class Gammaproteobacteria, Phylum Proteobacteria)
  • Vibrio parahemolyticus (Class Gammaproteobacteria, Phylum Proteobacteria)
  • Haliphthoros sp. (Class Peronosporea, Phylum Oomycota)
  • Cymatocarpus solearis (Class Trematoda, Phylum Platyhelminthes)
  • Balanomorpha (Class Maxillopoda, Phylum Arthropoda)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

These lobsters are commonly harvested for commercial purposes. They are second only to shrimp in commercial importance to Florida fisheries; from 1987-2001, commercial harvest totaled 94.6 million pounds. They are also popular with recreational fishermen. ("Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)", 2011; "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus", 1998; Shapiro, 2012)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effect of this species on humans.

Conservation Status

Caribbean spiny lobsters are categorized as "Data Deficient" by the IUCN. Restrictions have been placed on fishing for these lobsters, mainly to prevent gravid females from being caught and to allow juveniles to grow. (Butler, et al., 2011)


Nadine Seudeal (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

delayed fertilization

a substantial delay (longer than the minimum time required for sperm to travel to the egg) takes place between copulation and fertilization, used to describe female sperm storage.


an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).


seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.


(as perception channel keyword). This animal has a special ability to detect the Earth's magnetic fields.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


an animal that mainly eats dead animals

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


2011. "Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)" (On-line). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Accessed January 27, 2012 at

2012. "Caribbean Spiny Lobster - Panulirus argus" (On-line). Beautiful Oceans. Accessed January 28, 2012 at

2012. "Caribbean Spiny Lobster: Panulirus argus" (On-line). Oceana. Accessed February 02, 2012 at

1998. "Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus argus" (On-line). Marinebio. Accessed January 27, 2012 at

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Marine lobsters of the world: An annotated and illustrated catalogue of marine lobsters known to date. Volume 13. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1991. Accessed August 05, 2013 at

2012. "Panulirus argus (Caribbean spiny lobster)" (On-line). National History Museum. Accessed January 27, 2012 at

2012. "Species Fact Sheets Panulirus argus" (On-line). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed January 31, 2012 at

Butler, M., A. Cockcroft, A. MacDiarmid, R. Wahle. 2011. "Panulirus argus" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 01, 2012 at

Butler, M., T. Dolan III, J. Hunt, K. Rose, W. Herrnkind. 2005. Recruitment in Degraded Marine Habitats: A Spatially Explicit, Individual-Based Model for Spiny Lobster. Ecological Adaptations, 15/3: 902-918. Accessed February 11, 2012 at

Frisch, A. 2008. Social organization and den utilisation of painted spiny lobster (Panulirus versicolor) on a coral reef at Northwest Island, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research, 59/6: 521-528. Accessed April 11, 2012 at

Maxwell, K., T. Matthews, M. Sheehy, R. Bertelsen, C. Derby. 2007. Neurolipofuscin is a measure of age in Panulirus argus, the Caribbean spiny lobster, in Florida. The Biology Bulletin, 213/1: 55-66. Accessed March 24, 2012 at

McGaw, T. 2009. "Biology of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster" (On-line). Suite 101: Marine Biology and Oceanography. Accessed February 01, 2012 at

Perera, E., E. Díaz-Iglesias, I. Fraga, O. Carrillo, G. Galich. 2007. Effect of body weight, temperature and feeding on the metabolic rate in the spiny lobster, Panulirus argus (Latreille, 1804). Aquaculture, 265/1-4: 261-270. Accessed March 24, 2012 at

Roach, J. 2004. "Decoding Spiny Lobsters' Violin-Like Screech" (On-line). National Geographic. Accessed January 27, 2012 at

Shapiro, L. 2012. "Panulirus argus: Caribbean Spiny Lobster" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed August 05, 2013 at

Shields, J. 2011. Diseases of spiny lobster: A review. Journal of Invertebrate Patholgy, 106/1: 79-91. Accessed March 24, 2012 at

Smith, K., W. Herrkind. 1992. Predation on early juvenile spiny lobsters Panulirus argus (Latreille): influence of size and shelter. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 157/1: 3-18. Accessed August 06, 2013 at

Williams, A. 1984. Shrimps, Lobsters, and Crabs of the Atlantic Coast of the Eastern United States, Maine to Florida. Washington D.C., United States: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Ziegler, T., R. Forward. 2007. Control of larval release in the Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus: Role of chemical cues. Marine Biology, 152/3: 589-597. Accessed January 27, 2012 at