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Living Wild - Belize's Fauna

The Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Panulirus argus, Langosta in Spanish, Húgawaru in Garuifuna

There is more than just one species of lobster in Belize. We have the Caribbean Spiny lobster, the Spotted Spiny lobster and three different Slipper lobsters.

The Caribbean Spiny lobster, Panulinus argus, is by far the most important species because of its relative abundance and commercial importance. This lobster does not have claws, but two very long antennae that often give away their hiding spot. They have beady black eyes on the top of their head and are locally called "bugs" because of their appearance. And the name is appropriate because they are in the same Phylum (Arthropoda) as all insects! This lobster is not actually red underwater, but more of a purple/rust color with tan and black markings. Only when boiled does the lobster turn red.

The Caribbean Spiny lobster takes 3-5 years to mature and can reach a maximum length of two feet, although sometimes they look a lot bigger underwater to the inexperienced eye! Because they are nocturnal, they are usually hiding under ledges or in crevices during the day, but tour guides sometimes coax them out of hiding for a good view. They can be found either snorkeling or diving as they range from 3-130 feet deep.

Lobster meat is of course, rich and delicious and they are heavily fished. Many fishermen set traps on the shoals, baiting them with cowhide and checking the traps every three-four days. Alternatively, fishermen free-dive, that means without the use of any SCUBA, to depths of 70 feet(20m) for these valuable commodities. In Belize, lobsters are caught with a hook-stick: a long stick with a large hook on the end. The lobster is caught by sliding the stick under its soft belly and rapidly jerking the hook up and out which is not as easy as it sounds! The lobster is actually a fast swimmer, and it swims backwards, so if you miss, it can skate over the reef instantly to another hiding spot!


  • Obtain a fishing license before you take any marine product.
  • Never take lobster on SCUBA.
  • Observe the closed lobster season.
  • Never take a lobster with a tar spot or eggs.
  • Never scrape the eggs from a female's tail.
  • Do not sell or buy undersize or "soft" (recently molted) tails or lobsters with tar spots or eggs.
  • Never order lobster from a restaurant during the closed season.
Because the lobster migrates, it's difficult to get accurate population counts but one thing is for sure: their numbers are less than they used to be! For this reason Belize has a season and size limit for lobsters. Lobster season closes February 15 through June 15 during their mating/spawning season. And the minimum size is a 4-ounce tail.

As with most insects, lobsters molt as they grow larger, as many as 25 times in the first five years. It is when the female molts and her body is still soft, that the male has a chance to mate. Lobsters mate face to face (or belly to belly). The male leaves a sticky fluid on the female's belly. This hardens into a black patch called a "tar spot". When you see a female with a tar spot you know she will soon lay eggs. The eggs are bright orange and the female carries them beneath her tail. The female lobsters have a special, modified appendage on one pair of their legs that is used to transfer the male's sperm from the tar spot to the eggs under her tail. This modified little claw is how we sex them on our underwater surveys. A lobster carrying eggs is called a "berried" lobster because the eggs look like thousands of tiny berries.

The female carries her eggs one to four weeks until they hatch. She protects them from being eaten by fish and she fans them with water. Lobster eggs need their mother: if the eggs are removed from the mother's tail they will die. The number of eggs produced is related to the mother's size and age: the larger the female the more eggs she will produce, and it's not just directly proportional. In other words, a female with a caraspace (midsection, measured from between its eyes to the beginning of the tail) length of 13 cm (5 inches) may produce three times more eggs than one with a 9 cm (3.5 inches) caraspace.

Newly hatched lobsters look nothing like their parents. They have flat, clear bodies with long, thin legs. They do not crawl on the bottom but drift in the sea. Baby lobsters float in the sea for 6-12 months. Afterwards they go through a sudden change of shape called metamorphosis. After metamorphosis the flat body of the baby lobster changes shape into a small, young lobster. These lobsters can swim and head for shore. They settle in shallow, protected areas like mangroves or shallow reefs. Soon after they settle their clear bodies become colored and they are now marked with pale yellow and dark brown.

As the lobsters grow older they move out from the mangroves to the coral reefs to breed and spawn. Lobsters actually molt as they grow larger, shedding their outer skin. When the lobsters reach sexual maturity they are approximately 20.5-25.5 cm (8-10 inches) from head to tail. Lobsters never stop growing and it is said they can live up to 40 years!

All photos provided by Lisa Carne. All rights reserved.

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