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California Spiny Lobsters Finish Annual Molting

California Spiny Lobsters Finish Annual Molting
Andrew Reitsma

Animals

December 8, 2011

At the Aquarium, California spiny lobsters are on exhibit in the Southern California/Baja Gallery, where aquarists tag and monitor them closely for behaviors associated with molting. Look for the colored identification tags on the lobsters’ antennae. Crustaceans must molt their exoskeletons in order to grow. Once the old shell has been shed, it takes a few days for the newer one to completely harden. Adult lobsters molt once a year, usually in the fall months. This year the Aquarium’s lobsters began exhibiting signs of molting in late September and had completed the process by mid-November. Newly molted lobsters are vulnerable to attack from other lobsters, however. When the Aquarium’s lobsters are about to molt, signified by changes in feeding patterns, they are removed from the lobster exhibit.

California spiny lobsters are found in the waters off the California coast from Point Conception in Santa Barbara to Baja California, Mexico. They are one of the largest of the more than forty lobster species in the world, reaching up to three feet in length and weighing up to twenty-six pounds. It is estimated that these lobsters have a lifespan of twenty-five to fifty years.

Unlike many other lobster species, California spiny lobsters lack large front claws and instead rely on sharp spines on their bodies for defense. They can also rapidly swim away from predators using their powerful tails. Their predators include giant sea bass, California sheephead, sharks, octopuses, sea otters, and humans. California spiny lobsters are a popular target for West Coast fishermen.

California spiny lobsters tend to live in rocky reefs or around jetties and rock seawalls where they can find small caves and crevices to hide in during the day. They are nocturnal scavengers, feeding on fishes, sea urchins, clams, mussels, snails, and algae, and even other lobsters.

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