The Lagostino, Panulirus argus is a species of spiny lobster inhabiting the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, from North Carolina down to eastern South America at depths from 100 to 300 feet. They dwell on reefs and in mangrove swamps, or habitats with some sort of cover. More familiar names for the species include Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Florida Spiny Lobster or West Indies Spiny Lobster. Shortened variations of the name could include Lagostino, Crawfish, Crayfish or Bug.
The crustacean has a spiny, elongated, cylinder-like body. Forward-pointing horn-like spines are situated just above each eyestalk. Their coloring ranges from olive green to brown, but can sometimes be more like tan to mahogany. The carapace is speckled with yellow to cream-colored spots, with larger spots of the same color on the abdomen. Contrary to popular understanding, they have no claws. They have two pair of antennae. One pair is slender and black or dark brown in color, while the other pair is much thicker, longer than the body, and covered with forward pointing spines. The thicker antennae have thick, bluish bases with additional spines. They utilize these large, spiny antennae to defend themselves from predators. The legs have long blue and yellow stripes that terminate in a single spine-like location. The abdomen is divided into smooth somites, each having a shallow crevice across the middle. Each somite also has pairs of yellow and black swimmerets on the underside. The lobes of the tail share the color of the swimmerets. The species reaches lengths of up to 24 inches, however, it more commonly measures 8 inches, but is fished at any length.
Similar to most decapods, the females of this species carry their eggs outside of the body until they hatch. Their life-cycle starts as free-swimming, microscopic larvae. The larvae will undergo many transformations before settling on the ocean floor to live in crevices in the reef or between mangrove roots. To make room for their growing bodies, they shed their restricting exoskeletons and grow new ones. New exoskeletons are soft and require time to harden so that they are able to protect from predators according to purpose. During this time, the lobster is scarce and attempts to remain hidden in its crevices until the new exoskeleton is fully hardened. They eat any organic matter derived from plants or animals lying on the bottom of the ocean.
The spiny lobster is nocturnal, so activity during the daytime is limited to avoid predators such as octopus, nurse sharks, and stingrays. However, the most dangerous of their predators is man. Typically they prefer to remain hidden, although there are times groups of hundreds will travel across the ocean floor in the waters of southern Florida. It is not known why these migrations occur, but it has been supposed that decreasing temperatures of autumn may have some attribute to the temperature in shallow waters, provoking search for warmer waters.
Lagostino is a favorite seafood item for human consumption. For this reason, it is the single most exported food of the Bahamas, and commercially tops the shrimp industry in the Florida Keys in worth. Both commercial lobstermen and sport divers in South Florida, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas seek after these crustaceans fervently.
The Lagostino can be fished only in season in Florida. That season falls between early August and the end of January. Recreational divers are permitted to a special “sport diver season” which begins a few days prior to the regular season. Sport divers wear gloves and entice the crustaceans out of their hiding places with a small stick. Although spearing the lobster is illegal in Florida, it is common practice in the Bahamas and Caribbean. In commercial fishing, lobster traps are used to catch large quantities of lobster. Generally, lobstermen will bait the traps with dead fish or chicken necks.