information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

European spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.



A large spiny lobster, growing up to 60 cm in total length, with a stout, heavily armoured body. The colour is usually orange dorsally with darker spines and white underneath but brown, sandy and purple morphs are occasionally found (Hunter et al., 1996; Hunter, 1999). It has numerous sharp spines on the carapace, over much of the abdomen and on the larger appendages. There are two long antennae and small hook-like claws.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

The 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 distribution

South and west coasts of the British Isles, South to the Azores, the western Mediterranean, Adriatic Sea and Aegean Sea.


Lives subtidally on rocky, exposed coasts in the circalittoral zone.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Carapace covered with forward-directed spines; supra-orbital spines particularly prominent.
  • Antennal stalks very heavy and spiny; flagellum stout, tapering and longer than body.
  • Typically orange colouration but may also be brown, sandy or purple.
  • There are two large symmetrical white blotches on the tergites of somites 1-5, a single central blotch on the last segment and two blotches on the telson.
  • Small hook like claws.

Additional information

Also 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.

Listed by

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Alderman, D.J., 1973. Fungal infection of crawfish (Palinurus elephas) exoskeleton Transactions of the British Mycological Society, 61, 595-597

  2. Ansell, A. D. & Robb, L., 1977. The spiny lobster Palinurus elephas in Scottish waters. Marine Biology, 43, 63-70.

  3. Bruce, J.R., Colman, J.S. & Jones, N.S., 1963. Marine fauna of the Isle of Man. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

  4. Campillo, A. & Amadei, J., 1978. Première donné es biologiques sur la langouste de corse, Palinurus elephas, Fabricius. Revue des travaux de l'institut des pêches maritimes, Paris, 42, 343-373.

  5. Ceccaldi, H.J. & Latrouite, D., 1994. The French fisheries for the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas. Oxford: Fishing News Books.

  6. Crisp, D.J. (ed.), 1964. The effects of the severe winter of 1962-63 on marine life in Britain. Journal of Animal Ecology, 33, 165-210.

  7. Diaz, D., Mari, M., Abello, P. & Demestre, M., 2001. Settlement and juvenile habitat of the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas (Crustacea: Decapoda: Palinuridae) in the western Mediterranean Sea. Scientia Marina, 65, 347-256.

  8. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2002. Fisheries Statistics. Capture Production. Yearbook. Volume 94/1.

  9. Gibson, F.A. & O'Riordan, C.E., 1965. Palinurus vulgaris (L.) the crawfish in Irish waters 1962. Rapports et Proces-verbaux des Reunions. Conseil Permanent International pour l'Exploration de la Mer, 156, 47-49.

  10. Goñi , R. & Latrouite, D., 2005. Review of the biology, ecology and fisheries of Palinurus spp. species of European waters: Palinurus elephas (Fabricius, 1787) and Palinurus mauritanicus (Gruvell, 1911) Cahiers de biologie marine, 46, 127-142

  11. Goñi, R, Reñones, O. & Quetglas, A., 2001. Dynamics of a protected Western Mediterranean population of the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas (Fabricius, 1787) assessed by trap surveys. Marine and Freshwater Research, 52, 1577-1587.

  12. Goñi, R., Quetglas, A. & Reñones, O., 2003. Size at maturity, fecundity and reproductive potential of a protected population of the spiny lobster Palinurus elephas (Fabricius, 1787) from the western Mediterranean. Marine Biology, 143, 583-592.

  13. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  14. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  15. Hepper, B. T., 1977. The fishery for crawfish, Palinurus elephas, off the coast of Cornwall. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 57, 925-941.

  16. Holthuis, L.B., 1991. FAO Species Catalogue, vol. 13. Marine lobsters of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of species of interest to fisheries known to date. Food and Aqriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, FAO Fisheries Synopsis, no. 125, vol. 13, 292 pp.

  17. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  18. Hunter, E., 1999. Biology of the European spiny lobster, Palinurus elephas (Fabricius, 1787) (Decapoda, Palinuroidea) Crustaceana, 72, 545 - 565.

  19. Hunter, E., Shackley, S. E. & Bennett, D. B., 1996. Recent studies on the crawfish Palinurus elephas in South Wales and Cornwall. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 76, 963-983.

  20. Ingle, R., 1997. Crayfishes, lobsters and crabs of Europe. An illustrated guide to common and traded species. London: Chapman and Hall.

  21. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line]

  22. Kittaka, J. & Abrunhosa, F.A., 1997. Characteristics of palinurids (Decapoda; Crustacea) in larval culture. Hydrobiologia, 358, 305-311.

  23. Kittaka, J. & Ikegami, E., 1988. Culture of the Palinurid Palinurus elephas from egg stage to puerulus. Nippon Suisan Gakkaishi, 54, 1149-1154.

  24. Kittaka, J., Kudo, R., Onoda, S., Kanemaru, K. & Mercer, J.P., 2001. Larval culture of the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas. Marine and Freshwater Research, 52, 1439-1444.

  25. Lebour, M.V., 1925. Young anglers in captivity and some of their enemies. A study in a plunger jar. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 13, 721-734.

  26. Lindley, J.A., 1987. Continuous plankton records: the geographical distribution and seasonal cycles of decapod crustacean larvae and pelagic post-larvae in the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 67, 145-167.

  27. Lindley, J.A., 1998. Diversity, biomass and production of decapod crustacean larvae in a changing environment. Invertebrate Reproduction and Development, 33, 209-219.

  28. Lindley, J.A., Williams, R. & Hunt, H.G., 1993. Anomalous seasonal cycles of decapod crustacean larvae in the North Sea plankton in an abnormally warm year. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 172, 47-65.

  29. Marin, J., 1997. La langouste rouge: biologie et exploitation. Pêche Maritime, 64, 105-113.

  30. MBA (Marine Biological Association), 1957. Plymouth Marine Fauna. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

  31. Mercer, J.P., 1973. Studies on spiny lobsters (Crustacea: Decapoda: Palinuridae) of the west coast of Ireland, with particular reference to Palinurus elephas, Fabricius 1787. PhD thesis, University College, Galway., PhD thesis, University College, Galway.

  32. Noel, P., 1999. Palinurus elephas: langouste rouge., 2000-07-31

  33. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin.,

  34. Russell, F.S., 1927. The vertical distribution of marine macroplankton. V. The distribution of animals caught in the ring-trawl in daytime in the Plymouth area. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 14, 557-607.

  35. Russell, F.S., 1973. A summary of the observations on the occurrence of planktonic stages of fish off Plymouth 1924-1972. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 53, 347-355.

  36. Wilson, D.P., 1951. A biological difference between natural sea waters. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 30, 1-19.


This review can be cited as:

Jackson, A. & Marshall, C. 2007. Palinurus elephas European spiny lobster. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 23-04-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 03/09/2007