BIOTIC Species Information for Palinurus elephas
Researched byAngus Jackson & Charlotte Marshall Data supplied byMarLIN
Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
Scientific namePalinurus elephas Common nameEuropean spiny lobster
MCS CodeS1430 Recent SynonymsPalinurus vulgaris

PhylumCrustacea Subphylum
Superclass ClassEumalacostraca
SubclassEucarida OrderDecapoda
SuborderPleocyemata FamilyPalinuridae
GenusPalinurus Specieselephas

Additional InformationAlso known in Britain as the crawfish, crayfish, spiny lobster or rock lobster, and the langouste rouge (red spiny lobster), langouste commune or langouste royale (royal spiny lobster) in France.
Taxonomy References Howson & Picton, 1997, Hunter et al., 1996, Hayward et al., 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Ingle, 1997, Hunter, 1999, Noel, 1999, Holthuis, 1991,
General Biology
Growth formArticulate
Feeding methodOmnivore
Environmental positionEpifaunal
Typical food typesEchinoderms, small gastropods and bivalves, microalgae, shrimp larvae, bryozoans, annelids. HabitFree living
BioturbatorNot relevant FlexibilityNone (< 10 degrees)
FragilityIntermediate SizeMedium-large(21-50cm)
HeightInsufficient information Growth Rate12 mm/year
Adult dispersal potential>10km DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationThe male and female size range units used are total length (TL) although carapace length (CL) is the measurement usually used for fisheries management. Maximum overall total length is about 600 mm, although more commonly between 400 - 500 mm. In terms of carapace length, male and female sizes have been recorded to range between 85-193 mm and 79-180 mm respectively.

The mean annual size increase in females was found to be marginally lower at 12 mm CL / year than for males (12.2 mm CL / year) (Mercer, 1973, cited in Hunter, 1999). Other growth rate estimates suggest an increase of 2-14% CL with each moult (Campillo & Amadei, 1978) or as low as 1-2 mm CL / year (Hepper, 1977). Growth increments decrease as individuals approach their maximum size. Growth rates are also likely to vary with temperature, with higher rates apparent in warmer waters (Hunter, 1999).

In Britain and Ireland, females moult in late summer between July and September (Hepper, 1977; Ansell & Robb, 1977; Hunter et al., 1996). The moult cycle of males in Britain and Ireland seems to be less clear. Hunter et al. (1996) reported that males have a moult peak in September coinciding with the female moult. According to Hepper (1977) and Hunter (1999), male Palinurus elephas in Britain and Ireland moult mainly in the winter months although Hunter (1999) also states that males moult throughout the year. In Ireland, moulting occurs from late spring to early summer (Gibson & O'Riordan, 1965; Mercer, 1973, both cited in Hunter, 1999).
Moult frequency decreases with increasing age (Hunter, 1999).

Size at maturity
In a marine reserve in the Mediterranean, Goñi et al. (2003) found that female Palinurus elephas were able to reproduce at 76-77 mm CL and males were sexually mature at 82.5 mm CL. This size-specific fecundity was considered to be comparable to a lightly fished population off Ireland. In Britain and Ireland, size at maturity is generally larger (see Hunter, 1999). In Cornwall, Hunter et al. (1996) reported the smallest berried female to measure 90 mm CL whereas in Wales, the smallest berried female measured 121 mm CL. The mean size of female, male and berried female Palinurus elephas in Cornwall was reported as 125.6,132.4 and 135mm respectively, and 155.8, 138.7 and 138.6 mm respectively in Wales (Hunter et al., 1996). Mercer (1973, cited in Hunter, 1999) found that 50% female maturity was reached between 82-86 mm CL in Irish Palinurus elephas, the smallest measuring ca 70 mm CL. Female Palinurus elephas are thought to be almost always mature by the time they recruit into the fishery (Hunter et al., 1996).

Mobility & sociability
Palinurus elephas typically crawls on the substratum but may occasionally be found to swim. Mercer (1973, cited in Hunter, 1999) describes the species as 'typically gregarious'.

Palinurus elephas is known to undertake migrations to deeper water in the Atlantic (Ansell & Robb, 1977). Females move to deeper waters during egg development and return inshore prior to egg hatching (GoñI et al., 2001). Males are also thought to make onshore-offshore migrations although the timing in relation to female migrations is contentious (GoñI et al., 2001).

Biology References Hepper, 1977, Hunter et al., 1996, Campillo & Amadei, 1978, Ansell & Robb, 1977, Ingle, 1997, Hunter, 1999, Mercer, 1973, Noel, 1999, Goñi et al., 2003, Gibson & O'Riordan, 1965, Goñi & Lacrouite, 2005,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandThe main populations are confined to the west coast of Scotland, the extreme south-west coasts of England & Wales and the west coast of Ireland. See 'additional information' in Habitat section.
Global distributionSouth and west coasts of the British Isles, South to the Azores, the western Mediterranean, Adriatic Sea and Aegean Sea.
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth range5-70m
Distribution Additional InformationOnly occasional occurrences have been noted from elsewhere and the species is now rarely seen in some areas where it was formerly (1970s) common. Records since 1950 have been included in the mapped distribution. On the south coast of Britain, the species is now only occasionally caught east of Lizard Head. In the past it has been recorded from around Plymouth and there are exceptional cases from as far east as Portland (Hepper, 1977). It is present around Lundy (Hiscock, pers. comm.), the Isles of Scilly (Hepper, 1977) and the Isle of Man (Bruce et al., 1963). In Scotland, the species is found up the west coast and along the north coast to Orkney and Shetland (Ansell & Robb, 1977; Kinnear, pers .comm.). The greatest densities are found in the southwest and become increasingly less common moving northwards (Kinnear, pers. comm.) Very occasional isolated records have been made from the east coast of Scotland suggesting that larvae can penetrate into and survive in the North Sea. This is presumably during periods when North Atlantic oceanic water intrudes further round into the North Sea (Hepper, 1977).

Reduced landings, smaller average size and general observations indicate that populations have declined considerably since the 1970's, in south-west Britain at least. Numbers in the Mediterranean have also been reduced (Campillo & Amadei, 1978). Reasons for the decline include possible over-fishing through use of more efficient capture mechanisms such as tangle nets. Environmental conditions may also play an important role (Hiscock, pers. comm., based on observations in Russell, 1973 and Wilson, 1951). Their presence only on coasts bordering the Atlantic suggests a confinement to oceanic waters (Hepper, 1977). Successful recruitment of decapod larvae may be dependent on incursions of more oceanic water (Russell, 1973).

The species is generally found in open coastal areas and offshore seabeds where salinity is likely to be full (30-40 psu). The typical depth range of the species is between 5 and 70 m (Ansell & Robb, 1977; Ingle, 1997) although it has been recorded as deep as 160 m (Noel, 1999). These depths will typically cover the infralittoral and circalittoral zones of the seabed. Although typically found on rocky substrata, the species has also been recorded from finer sediments at the edge of Zostera sp. beds in Salcombe Harbour (Marine Biological Association, 1957).

Several observations suggest that the species makes active annual migrations to and from deeper water (e.g. Hunter, 1999). The populations, at least off the west of Ireland, (except perhaps for large males), move offshore into deeper waters late in the year to over-winter with the movement back inshore occurring in spring (Mercer, 1973, cited in Hunter, 1999). Migrations may be triggered by seasonal changes in sea temperature.

Substratum preferencesBedrock
Large to very large boulders
Small boulders
Physiographic preferencesOpen coast
Offshore seabed
Biological zoneUpper Circalittoral
Lower Infralittoral
Upper Infralittoral
Lower Circalittoral
Wave exposureExtremely Exposed
Very Exposed
Tidal stream strength/Water flowInsufficient information
SalinityFull (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional Information
Distribution References Hepper, 1977, Hunter et al., 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Campillo & Amadei, 1978, Ansell & Robb, 1977, Ingle, 1997, MBA, 1957, Russell, 1973, Hunter, 1999, Mercer, 1973, JNCC, 1999, Picton & Costello, 1998, Noel, 1999, Wilson, 1951, Bruce et al., 1963, Holthuis, 1991,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismPlanktotrophic
Reproductive SeasonJuly to October Reproductive LocationAs adult
Reproductive frequencyAnnual protracted Regeneration potential No
Life spanInsufficient information Age at reproductive maturity3-5 years
Generation timeInsufficient information FecunditySee additional information
Egg/propagule sizeInsufficient information Fertilization typeExternal
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potential1km-10km Larval settlement periodInsufficient information
Duration of larval stage1-6 months   
Reproduction Preferences Additional InformationAge at maturity is labile and depends on environmental conditions. Fecundity
Fecundity in Palinurus elephas is influenced by the size of the female, with heavier specimens producing more eggs (Ceccaldi & Latrouite, 1994). Goñi et al. (2003) reported fecundity in a marine reserve in the western Mediterranean to be between ca 23,000-202,000 eggs. This is generally three to five times lower than fecundity in many other spiny lobster populations (Hunter, pers. comm.).
Mating is usually preceded by a ?pre-mating? moult which occurs up to four weeks earlier (Ceccaldi & Latrouite, 1994). When the female is ready to mate, she emits a specific noise (stridulation) which attracts a mate (Mercer, 1973, cited in Ceccaldi & Latrouite, 1994). The male then deposits a spermatophore below the genital opening of the female.
Females bearing spermatophores have been reported from August to October in Britain and Ireland (Hepper, 1977; Ansell & Robb, 1977; Hunter, et al., 1996; Hunter, 1999). In laboratory experiments, Ansell & Robb (1977) found that eggs were released 7-10 days after the deposition of the spermatophore. As the eggs are laid, the spermatophores are usually torn with the claw on the fifth pereiopods (Mercer, 1973, cited in Hunter et al., 1996), thereby fertilizing the eggs. The first newly berried females in Cornwall and Wales were observed in August and, by January, 90% of Cornish females were found to be berried (Hunter et al., 1996). Incubation in the Atlantic is typically nine months after which the eggs hatch in early summer (Hunter, 1999). In Mediterranean population, incubation lasts for only five months, probably reflecting warmer water temperatures (Hunter, 1999). Hepper (1977) noted that eggs were laid in late summer / autumn in Cornwall and hatched the following spring / early summer. Most eggs have hatched by June in Wales and Cornwall (Hunter et al., 1996). In Scotland, hatching was thought to have occurred in April and May (Ansell & Robb, 1977). There is only one clutch per year.
In the Mediterranean, pueruli were found to settle between June and July in the western Mediterranean spending about five months in the plankton (Diaz et al., 2001).
Reproduction References Hepper, 1977, Hunter et al., 1996, Ansell & Robb, 1977, Ingle, 1997, Hunter, 1999, Noel, 1999, Ceccaldi & Latrouite, 1994, Goñi et al., 2003, Goñi & Lacrouite, 2005,
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