Sunday 18 August 2013

Spiny Lobster

Image: Valentine's Dive Center
Spiny Lobsters... more spiny than lobster!

It must be difficult to be a crustacean when humans are around.

There you are enjoying life; swimming in crystal clear lagoons, walking across vibrant backdrops of coral reefs in all their splendour, tearing into the slowly rotting flesh of a fish who graciously died and sank to the seabed in order to provide you breakfast. With such bountiful feasts in such luscious surroundings it is clear that this is not just life. This is heaven.

Image: Richard Ling
And then the clouds roll in. A shadow looms over you, grows larger and larger and before you can escape you're in the clutches of a flabby, oily hand. It plucks you from your idyllic scene and throws you into a cauldron of bubbling, boiling water. Who knew water could be so traitorous?

But the worst thing about it all is when you try to describe who you actually are. After queueing up for what seems like hours, some know-nothing bureaucrat hands you a questionnaire and shoos you away. He doesn't even look you in the eye, and the questionnaire is oily where his plump fingers held it.

Image: Richard Ling
You look at the questions. Beneath "are you poisonous?" and "are you tasty?" comes "what are you?"

You stare at the options:

a. Crab,
b. Lobster,
c. Shrimp.

It's important to note - you don't have anything AGAINST crabs, lobsters and shrimp. Some of your best friends are crabs, lobsters and shrimp. And you're not just saying that, it's actually true. It's not one those "I don't hate all crabs, lobsters and shrimp, but..." situations. It's just that... you're not a crab, lobster or shrimp. You're something else. You're different. They could at least add "d. other" or something. SOMETHING. But no...

You're too big to be a shrimp, too long to be a crab, therefore you are a lobster. A lobster that is spiny. A Spiny Lobster.

Image: Simone Carletti
Spiny Lobsters are about 60 species in the family Palinuridae, found in warm waters all over the world. Just like actual lobsters, they have ten legs. Unlike actual lobsters, their first pair of legs don't have giant claws at the end such that they aren't really legs any more.

This feature is so important that the Spiny Lobster family belongs to an infraorder called Achelata, which means "no claw". Also in Achelata is the Slipper Lobster, who has a pair of huge, flattened antennae sticking out of its face. Spiny Lobsters don't do that. They have a pair of huge, spiky antennae sticking out of their face instead.

Spiny Lobsters spend the day hiding in rock crevices and venture out at night to find snails, crabs and carrion to eat. If disturbed, most can produce a rasping sound by rubbing part of their antennae against a smooth area of their exoskeleton. The sounds probably translates into something like "ooohh! I'll have someone's eye out with these" in a sarcastic voice as it brandishes those ludicrous facial spikes.

Image: Scubaben
This spiny display and rasping sarcasm must surely be at its most abominable with the more gregarious species such as the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. While many Spiny Lobsters are solitary, the Caribbean one likes to gather in small groups and sleep all day in what is essentially a small cave. Basically they're squatters, and I imagine the walls of their hovel are probably covered in graffiti and the floors in drug paraphernalia.

As with most squatters, getting too close to any one of them is a mistake. You will soon find the whole gang banding together in defence of their friend, rasping their threats and pointing sharp objects in the general direction of your eyeballs.

The Caribbean Spiny Lobster is particularly famous for their migrations. Every year, they leave the shallows to escape falling temperatures and stormy weather and walk single file to deeper waters. Sometimes dozens of them all end up following each other in long, orderly trains. Apparently they don't mind queueing so long as the queue keeps moving.

Another reason to always keep moving is to escape the horror of their own children. Spiny Lobster eggs don't hatch into baby Spiny Lobsters. They hatch into aliens.

Image: Smithsonian Institution
The proper name for these things is phyllosoma. They're the larvae that both Spiny Lobsters and Slipper Lobsters start out as, which is another reason for them both being placed in the infraorder Achelata.

Phyllosomes start off just a few millimetres long but over the next few months or even years for some species, they can reach several inches before they metamorphose into an adult.

These unearthly beings float in the water with their thin, flattened bodies and swim with their spindly legs. Their eyes are on stalks because... well, they're aliens aren't they? It's the done thing.

Image: Smithsonian Institution
There's a lot unknown about phyllosomes. However, one thing's for sure - they definitely fall under d. other.


TexWisGirl said...

has an identity problem and doesn't even know it!

Joseph JG said...

Few identity problems look as cool as this one!