Spiny lobsters, also known as langouste or rock lobsters are a family (Palinuridae) of about 45 species of achelate crustaceans, in the Decapoda Reptantia. Spiny lobsters are also, especially in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, sometimes called crayfish, sea crayfish or crawfish, terms which elsewhere are reserved for freshwater crayfish.
Like true lobsters, spiny lobsters are edible and are an economically significant food source; they are the biggest food export of the Bahamas.
The furry lobsters (e.g. Palinurellus) are sometimes separated into a family of their own, the Synaxidae, but are usually considered members of the Palinuridae. The slipper lobsters (Scyllaridae) are their next closest relatives, and these two or three families make up the Achelata. Genera of spiny lobsters include Palinurus and a number of anagrams thereof: Panulirus, Linuparus, etc. (Palinurus was also a helmsman in Virgil's Æneid.)
Although they superficially resemble true lobsters in terms of overall shape and having a hard carapace and exoskeleton, the two groups are not closely related. Spiny lobsters can be easily distinguished from true lobsters by their very long, thick, spiny antennae, by the lack of claws (chelae) on the first four pairs of walking legs, although the females of most species have a small claw on the fifth pair, and by a particularly specialized larval phase called phyllosoma. True lobsters have much smaller antennae and claws on the first three pairs of legs, with the first being particularly enlarged.
Spiny lobsters have typically a slightly compressed carapace, lacking any lateral ridges. Their antennae lack a scaphocerite, the flattened exopod of the antenna. This is fused to the epistome (a plate between the labrum and the basis of the antenna). The flagellum, at the top of the antenna, is stout, tapering and very long. The ambulatory legs (pereopods) end in claws (chelae).
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