The painted spiny lobster, Panulirus versicolor is also known as the blue spiny lobster. They are claw-less lobsters and are greatly favored as a delicacy.
Painted spiny lobster grow to a maximum length of 40 centimeters but most are smaller around the 25 to 40 cm range. 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. On the painted spiny lobster these are pink on the lower segments and white ringed with thin black rings on the upper segments. A smaller pair of branched feelers with sensory organs sits in between the large feelers. The carapace is a greenish colour with blue black markings on them. The tail is a greenish colour with blue-black and white stripes on the back of each segment that extend downwards onto the swimmerets. Protruding eyes give them good all round vision. The legs are lined with blue-black stripes.
Juveniles are more of a purple colour and have disproportionally long white feelers that make them easy to spot on the reef.
IN THE WILD
Painted 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 white on the painted spiny lobster, making them easy to spot. They are extremely shy and will retreat into a crevice or hole at the sight of a diver. They can swim backwards quite quickly to escape predators by flapping their tail. Compared to other lobsters they do not hide in communal holes and will almost always be seen on their own. Other species of lobster are often found in the company of moray eels but we have yet to see the painted spiny lobster sharing a hole with a moray eel.
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 and we have seen them at up to 27 meters on some reefs. 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.
Painted 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.
Painted spiny lobsters 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 after they ripen they release up to 100000 eggs which are carried under the females 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.
Painted 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.
PAINTED SPINY LOBSTER CLASSIFICATION
- The Reef Guide fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates: East and South Coasts of Southern Africa by Dennis King & Valda Fraser