Key West’s waters are teeming with fascinating marine life. While the coral reef off the coast of Key West is home to a beautiful array of tropical fish, there are other underwater creatures lurking about. This is where Florida’s stone crabs and spiny lobsters come into play. These crustaceans hide within coral caves or dock pilings with their antennae or claws protruding for a hint at what’s beneath. They’re exciting to see in the wild, especially for fishermen since they’re amongst the water’s most prized catch. Brush up on these fun facts about Florida stone crabs and spiny lobsters, then try to find them in the wild.
Know Their Species
Both stone crabs and lobsters are in the Crustacea Subphylum and the Malacostraca Class. There are nearly 60 species of spiny lobsters throughout the world, whereas stone crabs typically fall into one of two species that sometimes interbreed to create a hybrid.
Stone Crab Habitats
While they’re most commonly known as Florida stone crabs, these crustaceans are actually found all along the western North Atlantic Ocean from as far north as Connecticut to as far south as Belize. They’re especially abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas and even in the salt marshes of Georgia and South Carolina.
Spiny Lobster Habitats
The spiny lobster habitat is more global than the stone crab. While they’re abundant in South Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, they’re also found in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
Look for Lobster and Crab “Pots” in the Gulf
If you head offshore during your visit to Key West, whether it’s for a sunset cruise, a snorkel adventure or a jet ski tour, you may notice small, Styrofoam buoys dotting the Gulf. These mark lobster and crab traps, often called “pots,” used by commercial fishermen. The buoys are attached to a trap on the ocean floor made of wood slats holding bait that lobster and crab find irresistible.
Spiny Lobsters Have a Lot of Nicknames
Depending on where you are, people have different names for spiny lobsters. They’re typically found hiding in coral rock, so they’re often called rock lobsters. The French refer to them as langoutes and in the Caribbean it’s common to hear them called crayfish or crawfish.
Spiny Lobsters are Different from Maine Lobsters
While Florida’s spiny lobster is just as much a delicacy as the more traditional Maine lobster that you may be familiar with, they have one major anatomical difference. Instead of claws, Florida’s spiny lobsters are equipped with antennae, which is also where they get their name. When you dine on spiny lobster in Key West restaurants, it’s their tender tail meat that you’re feasting on.
Spiny Lobsters Antennae Scare Off Prey
While they don’t have claws or pincers, spiny lobsters use their antennae to make a screeching and hissing noise under the water by rubbing them against the smooth part of their exoskeleton. This scares away potential predators.
Stone Crabs Claws Can Grow Back
Stone crabs can lose their limbs, or molt, easily when it comes to evading predators, which include sea turtles, grouper and horse conch. When a claw is broken, the wound quickly heals and a new claw grows back. In fact, each time a stone crab molts, the new limb grows back stronger and larger.
They Both Feed on Other Crustaceans
Stone crabs feed on oysters, worms, mollusks and other crustaceans, while the spiny lobster seeks out snails, clams, crabs and sea urchins.
Know Your Seasons
To keep the stone crab and lobster fishery sustainable, each of these crustaceans can only be caught during their respective seasons. Whether you’re interested in diving to catch these animals or simply want to dine on the freshest catch, it’s important to know when they’re in season. Stone crab season runs from mid-October to mid-May, while Florida lobster season is August through March. It’s an exciting time in Key West at the start of both these seasons.