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European spiny lobster

Image: V. Maximiliano Giacalone ©

Species description and status: The European spiny lobster, Palinurus elephas (Fabricius, 1787) is the most common and commercially important palinurid crustacean around the European coasts. This species occurs in the northeastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean (Figure 1) from a few meters down to about 200 m depth, more commonly between 10 and 70 m (Holthuis 1991). Its preferred habitat is made of rocky cliffs with holes and crevices that provide refuges, which P. elephas leaves during the night (Giacalone et al., 2006, 2014) for feeding and for reproduction (Goñi & Latrouite, 2005). Specimens are found generally alone, one per hole or, less frequently, in small groups within crevices. They use chemosensors to detect the presence of food, conspecifics and predators. P. elephas is omnivorous and preys on hard–shelled benthic organisms like mollusks, echinoderms, crustaceans, polychaete worm tubes, bryozoans, fish bones and also macroalgae (Goñi et al., 2001). P. elephas appears to change food preferences depending on the abundance of benthic organisms present in the foraging area. This species is able to emit sounds (“stridulation”) produced by the friction of the bases of the antennas, during predatory avoidance behavior for intraspecific communication. This noise seems also to attract males (Buscaino et al., 2011; Zenone et al., 2019). The species undergo to moult depending on the age of individuals, usually adult moult once per year during Spring.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed the European spiny lobster as vulnerable indicating also a “decreasing” status for the population trend, due to intense exploitation, especially in the western Mediterranean (Goñi & Latrouite, 2005).

Knowledge gaps: In the Atlantic, P. elephas undertakes a pre-reproductive spring onshore migration and a reverse post-reproductive autumn offshore migration (Mercer, 1973; Ansell and Robb, 1977). A similar behavior has been postulated for P. elephas off the Columbretes Islands in the western Mediterranean (Goñi et al., 2001a). Tag-recapture studies indicate that adult movement is restricted, with most animals moving less than 5 km and exceptionally up to 20 km after 1 to 8 years at large (Hepper, 1970; Goñi et al., 2001b; Cuccu, 1999). However, data are not sufficient to properly describe large-scale and reproductive migration. Recent acoustic telemetry applications were able to describe small scale movement pattern, home range and homing ability in this species (Giacalone et al., 2015, 2019). More information on the coastal distribution (especially on the extreme eastern and south-eastern Mediterranean basins) and movement pattern and habitat use would be useful to increase the knowledge in warmer areas.

Fig 1. European spiny lobster distribution in the Mediterranean Sea and northeastern Atlantic Ocean, including the western coast of North Africa, Canary Islands, and the Azores (not on map) (from Groeneveld et al., 2006).

Regions of interest: Palinurus elephas is common along the northeastern Atlantic coasts from Scotland to Morocco, including the Azores and Canary Islands (Figure 1). In the Mediterranean it occurs over the entire western basin and the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, but it is absent from the extreme eastern and south-eastern basins (Groeneveld et al., 2006).

Telemetry tools: Acoustic telemetry and data loggers represent the best available tools for characterizing the movement patterns of spiny lobsters in the marine environment. The relative small size (max 170 mm carapace length) and the cryptic behavior of this species discourages the use of pop-up satellite tags.

Benefits within ETN: based on the distribution of this important crustacean species, ETN partners could perform a joint study in order to characterize the movement pattern of this species at different latitudes, temperatures, sea conditions across the whole distribution area.

Contacts: V. Maximiliano Giacalone and Giovanni D’Anna


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