Find the lobster in this photo

Sculptured Slipper Lobster (Parribacus antarcticus), Hawaii
Sculptured Slipper Lobster (Parribacus antarcticus), Hawaii
by B. N. Sullivan

What you are looking at in the photo above is the ceiling of an underwater cavelet in Hawaii.  The bright red stuff is an encrusting sponge.  Most of the rest of the surface is covered by various kinds of algae.  The purplish blob in the center of all that red is not a clump of algae; it is a slipper lobster wearing a clever disguise.

This is the Sculptured Slipper Lobster (Parribacus antarcticus),  a member of the Scyllaridae family.  It is said to be the most common slipper lobster species found in Hawaiian waters, but if you polled a sample of divers there you would find that relatively few have seen these critters.  Part of the reason is that their camouflage makes them easy to miss, and their flattish profile also helps them to blend into the background.  In addition, they are rather small -- maybe five or six inches long at most.

The individual in the photos here was snuggled into a crevice in a cavelet we visited during a night dive at Puako, Hawaii.  We had been inside this cavelet many times during the day and often found pretty nudibranchs on the walls and roof surface.  Expecting that we might see some of those at night as well, we shined our lights all around as we entered.  We didn't find any nudibranchs that night, but as it happened, our bubbles hit the spot on the ceiling where this little slipper lobster was hanging out.  Annoyed, it skittered across the surface to escape the bubbles.  We hadn't noticed it until it moved, even though the beams from our lights had swept the area several times.

Below is another photo of the same creature.  Note the snazzy fringe along the edge of its carapace.  In case you are still scratching your head about what you are seeing, the little lobster is facing left in the photo below.  If you look very carefully you may be able to distinguish its widely spaced eyes from the rest of the mottling.

Sculptured Slipper Lobster (Parribacus antarcticus), Hawaii
Sculptured Slipper Lobster (Parribacus antarcticus), Hawaii

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