The longlegged spiny lobster, Panulirus longipes is also known as a crayfish or kreef. They are claw-less lobsters and are greatly favored as a delicacy. There are two subspecies ,P. l. longipes is found from East Africa to Indonesia, while P. l. bispinosus is found from Indonesia northwards to Japan and to the east coast of Australia.
Longlegged spiny lobster grow to a maximum length of 30 centimeters although most are slightly smaller. The body is covered in a hard carapace covered in spines with two prominent forward facing spines between the eyes. The tail is covered in a segmented carapace allowing it to flex and provide powerful rearwards propulsion. The tail has a fan on the end with assists with the propulsion when flared out.
They have two sets of feelers, one large pair covered in spines which can fold backwards and can be used for protection. When cornered they extend these feelers towards the threat. A smaller pair of branched feelers with sensory organs sits in between the large feelers. The overall body color is dark brownish and there are numerous white spots on the tail. The eyes protrude above the carapace and offer good all round vision.
Proportionately they have longer legs than other similar spiny lobsters which gives them their name.
IN THE WILD
Longlegged spiny lobster are nocturnal and are rarely if ever seen out during the day. They hide in holes and crevices sometimes with their feelers extending out. Often only the smaller branched feelers are extended out and these are covered in alternating white and dark brown stripes making them easy to spot. They are extremely shy and will retreat into a crevice or hole at the sight of a diver. Their most rapid form of movement is swimming backwards with their powerful tails. When out in the open and confronted by a predator they can launch themselves backwards at great speed.
They will often be found in the company of moray eels. This is thought to provide them with protection from octopus who prey on the lobsters, whereas the eels prey on octopus.
As with all crustaceans they change carapaces and when the new one is ready they pull out of the old carapace. The new carapace takes a day or two to harden and they are extremely vulnerable to predators at this time.
They are found in the sub tropical and tropical areas of the Indo west Pacific area from the South African coast up the east coast of Africa including Madagascar, across to Malaysia, Japan and the northern coast of Australia.
They are found on rocky and coral reefs usually shallower than 18 meters but can on occasion be found deeper. During the day they are found hiding in holes, crevices and under overhangs. At night they come out to feed and can be seen on the reef top.
Longlegged spiny lobster are nocturnal feeders and eat a variety of mollusks, shrimp, crabs, worms and sea urchins. . They use their powerful legs to pull apart mollusks. Their main predators include triggerfish, groupers and octopuses.
Longlegged spiny lobster have separate sexes and at maturity which is generally around four to five years they begin breeding. Males deposit a sperm packet on the underside of females and females releases up to 100000 eggs which are carried under their tail.Females have specialized attachments (pleopods) on the underside of the tail for the eggs to hook onto. The eggs start off bright orange and as they develop so they go a dark muddy brown color.
Once the eggs hatch they become planktonic, free floating in the water table for ten to eleven months. Very few of the larvae survive until adult stage. This makes it extremely difficult to breed them commercially.
Longlegged spiny lobster are eaten throughout their range and are regarded as a delicacy. They are trapped in fish traps in Tanzania and Zanzibar. They are almost certainly over fished in large parts of their range. In Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa where this species is not that common, they can be harvested recreationally from March to the beginning of November.
Species: P. longipes
- The Reef Guide fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates: East and South Coasts of Southern Africa by Dennis King & Valda Fraser