Lobster – that single word conjures up salivating visions of glorious luxury food served in sumptuous surroundings. Very elitist! But for the marine aquarium keeper the mental image is more likely to take the form of a living, prickly animal, with long antennae, and lacking the powerful claws tipping massive chelipeds. The tropical lobster species which from time to time appear in aquarium shops are more likely to be small reef lobsters, or baby spiny lobsters, and just occasionally squat lobsters – tiny even at full maturity. Although this collection of “lobsters” are described by the same group name, split into their various genera they are very different from one another. But whichever species is being considered for aquarium life, most careful thought is required before making the purchase and possibly ending up with a liability rather than an asset!
The miniature “Reef Lobsters” or “Soft Lobsters” of the genus Enoplometopus are certainly very pretty animals, some with numerous spots ranging from pink to scarlet, or violet to purple, depending on the species. E. daumi is frequently imported for the aquarium trade from S E Asia, and is an ideal subject for aquarium life, but is not recommended for a mixed reef tank as they are highly territorial and will defend their chosen area of territory within the aquarium vigorously. Being nocturnal they are most active while their owners are usually asleep and not witnessing the hassle being inflicted on the other aquarium inhabitants during night-time rampages! Smaller fishes, other crustacea, and certain other invertebrate life may be despatched at this time. So a “species aquarium” is the required accommodation for these otherwise charming little animals. There are cilli fringing the dorsal ridge of the body and tail, as well as the chelipeds. A less frequently imported species is occidentalis, which has much denser growths of cilli bristling from its body and legs, but grows to a similar size and has similar habits as daumi . The legs are also equipped with fearsome pointed white spines which can inflict a painful wound if handled without due care. The wound can be slow to heal, suggesting that maybe some mucus or secretion from the lobster is left behind when the flesh is disengaged from the spines. Both species could be described as being somewhat delinquent by aquarium keepers! Wild specimens of occidentalis have been recorded as large as 20 cms long, but this has to be exceptional, and unlikely that a captive specimen would attain anything like such extreme dimensions. A much smaller species is debelius, which only reaches about 7 cms at full maturity in captive conditions. This Reef Lobster sports pale violet-to-purple base colouring, liberally decorated with darker coloured spots on its body, and it has purple chelipeds, tipped with red banded claws. Although more diminutive in size this pretty species is equally as aggressive when its territory is threatened by intruders.
Baby Blue Spiny Lobsters are often imported, and are very attractive animals with huge disproportionately long white feelers, dwarfing the diminutive body form they sprout from! It seems that it would be impossible for such a small body to be able to carry these extremely long and cumbersone appendages, but not a bit of it. These babies are able scamper over the coral rocks and back themselves into their bolt hole with ease. On the reef the extended white feelers poking from holes in the rocks makes the presence of baby spiny lobsters puzzlingly obvious. Another eye-catching and highly distinctive feature is the spread tail, which is peacock-blue at its extremities, shading out to a golden/green where it meets the body. The legs are striped with purple and black, and long antennae are black with a few white bands. But this baby, with its 3 or 4 cms. long body, will mature into an adult capable of attaining some 40 cms. in length! The adult Blue Spiny Lobster (Panulirus versicolor) is quite different in colouring to its juvenile form, but is certainly a most handsome animal. Typically the white feelers become orange or brown projecting from a sturdy, spikey, pale blue double-base section, and the legs develop black and white banding. The body is a misty sky-blue with bright orange spotting. But the colouring is capable of much variation. So, as a baby this lobster makes an interesting and attractive reef aquarium occupant, but as it grows out of the baby stage it becomes far too big for an average home reef aquarium. But adult Spiny Lobsters are easy to keep if sufficient space is given over to them, and they are not inclined to quarrel seriously among themselves if each has a niche to establish as its own territory. A dedicated lobster aquarium is necessarily large and makes an attractive exhibit in public aquariums, but would hardly suit an average home environment.