Greater slipper lobster
The greater slipper lobster (Scyllarides latus) is a crustacean with a compact carapace equipped with five pairs of sharp-pointed legs called pereiopods. This is why the order they belong to is called Decapoda (in latin, ten-legged), just like its cousins the lobsters. The body is less elongated than the latters’, though, and the legs don’t have any claws. Well, this is not entirely true, for the female’s fourth pair of legs does have small claws, which she uses to maintain the eggs attached to her belly. Furthermore the slipper lobster replaces from time to time its carapace through a process called molting: as soon as it gets too small, like a dress of the wrong size, it drops it (making itself very vulnerable) and lets another one grow back below.
Beside the legs, the slipper lobster also has a pair of frontal antennae, which are used as sensory receptors with a characteristic rapid movement like in the video. These, as well as the edge of its fore body, are electric blue, an hypnotizing feature enhanced against the brown carapace by the flashlight.
The slipper lobster eats mostly gastropods and bivalves (that is, basically, sea-shells). It seems that it uses the sharp extremity of its legs to open or detach from the substrate its preys – above all limpets.
It is preyed in turn by big groupers and common dentex, triggerfish and the bravest octopi. Except for a few quick backward leaps, it is not a real swimmer. Therefore its safety lies in the art of camouflage, which is why its dark carapace is sometimes colonized by algae or briozoans, and why during the day it stays hidden in obscure cavities. Whereas in the night it fancies little hunting walks.
The reproduction period is late Spring. Then the slipper lobsters, usually found at even 100 m or so, use to migrate to much shallower depths, even 1 or 2 m only. Every year they come back to the same spots, and this is why at this time of the year – our season start – we have fun in searching for them inside the caves or during the night dives. Their habit to hang out in the same place is actually so strong that at times we are certain we’d find them!
Once hatched, the eggs become pelagic larvae that will wander for a while (it is still unclear for how long) before they sink to the bottom to become new lobsters. They’ll be able to reach a length of 50 cm and weigh up to 2 kg.
It exists in the Mediterranean two mini-slipper lobsters, the smaller and pygmy slipper lobsters (Scyllarus arctus and pygmaeus, respectively). They don’t grow more than 15 and 6 cm, though, and are much rarer to be found (we only found a few smaller slipper lobsters in Marettimo, and what a joy!): they are not the same species!!!
Scyllarides latus, finally, can only be found in the Mediterranean (everywhere except in the Northern Adriatic Sea) and in the Atlantic along the coasts of Portugal and Northern Africa. In the Med it is a protected species…