Home | Aquarium Livestock | Lobsters in the Marine Aquarium – Part 1

Lobsters in the Marine Aquarium – Part 1

Flaming Reef LobsterHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  I thoroughly enjoy keeping lobsters, and have even been lucky enough to work with the Atlantic or Maine lobster (Homarus americanus), known better to diners than aquarists.  Unlike this huge cold-water beast, a number of small, colorful tropical lobsters are ideally suited to home aquariums.  Today I’d like to take a look their general husbandry as well as the care of a popular species, the dwarf red lobster (Enoplometopus occidentalis).

Diet and Feeding Techniques

All lobsters are, to some extent, scavengers, but should not be expected to subsist on leftovers alone.  In aquariums with fishes, lobsters rarely get enough food unless they are individually fed, or, if only diurnal fishes are kept, fed after dark.  Feeding prongs or tubes greatly simplify lobster feeding, and most readily adapt to these implements.

Free-living lobsters generally consume a wide range of foods, and it is a simple matter to provide a varied diet in captivity, and thus ensure their good health.  Be sure to offer several types of plant and animal-based pelleted and frozen foods.

Observing Your Lobsters

Most lobsters are nocturnal, but well-habituated individuals may forage by day.  Night-viewing bulbs, designed for use with reptiles, will assist in revealing their night time activities to you. 

Purple Reef LobsterCaves situated alongside the glass may allow a better view of lobsters during the day…covering that portion of the glass with black paper will encourage them to take up residence.

Precautions – Digging and Shedding

Rocks and coral should be situated on the aquarium’s bottom, not on the substrate, as nearly all lobsters burrow when constructing shelters.  Those digging below heavy objects may be crushed in the process.

While similarly sized lobsters may co-exist, shedding time always presents problems if more than one individual is kept.  Lobsters are soft and defenseless for several hours after molting, and are usually found and consumed by tank-mates.  Large aquariums with a complex internal structure (corals, rocks, etc.) offer the best hope of success, but I’ve lost animals even in giant commercial aquarium exhibits.

Dwarf Red or Hawaiian Reef Lobster, Enoplometopus occidentalis

Looking much like a miniature, cooked Maine Lobster, this 2-5 inch beauty is one of the most attractive species available.  Clad in vivid red, it sometimes fools aquarists by remaining “peaceful” by day, only to hunt down small slumbering fishes at night.  Dwarf red lobsters are highly territorial, and will treat other lobster species and large shrimps, as well as their own kind, as intruders.

Daum's Reef Lobster The closely related Flame Reef Lobster (E. antillensis), also from the Indo-Pacific, is a “screaming” red-orange in color and marked with white and orange spots.  Less commonly seen but well-worth searching for, are E. holthuisi, which is light red with a white “bullseye” on the thorax, the pink, Purple-spotted Purple Reef Lobster (E. debelius) and Daum’s Lobster (E. daumi), which is beautifully colored in a pale purple that grades to deep purple at the head and claws.


Next time I’ll introduce a “lobster impersonator”, the Pistol or Snapping Shrimp (Synalpheus spp.), the Blue Spiny Lobster and other popular species.

Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. 



Frank Indiviglio


Further Reading

The abstract of an interesting experiment on red lobster aggression is posted here.

For a look at maternal care among the lobsters’ freshwater relatives, please see Maternal Care in Crayfishes, a Personal Observation.


  1. avatar

    Hi I’m from singapore

    I would like to ask you. I just caught a Asian Spiny Lobster
    been keeping it for 3 days already but it doesn’t have any interested in eating may I know what the cause ?

  2. avatar

    It may go through a period of stress during which it does not feed, but keep in mind that they are most active at night and it may be feeding on small bits then. They scavenge, so you may only rarely see it feed, though it may be eating regularly. What are you trying to feed it?

  3. avatar

    Hi I own a Hawaiian Reef Lobster and just recently it lost a claw. A few days before it shed but I did not think it lost its claw as well. Just wondering if you could answer why it lost its claw. The lobster is housed with a coral beauty, convict tang, maroon clown and a bar gobie. It has a really good hiding spot and it still looks healthy minus the claw. Can you answer this question for me?

  4. avatar

    Hi Cody. Crustaceans can lose limbs for a number of reasons. It may have gotten stuck or damaged, there may have been an issue when it shed and the claw broke off, or they will sometimes “drop” a limb to distract or evade a predator. The claw may grow back over the next few molts but as long as the lobster can still get food, it should still be able to remain healthy. Always make sure that the tank gets regular water changes and/or gets trace element supplements regularly to help the exoskeleton stay strong.

  5. avatar

    I have recently acclimated a Maine lobster into my 150gl reef setup. I’m still not sure this is a good idea given that he is almost a foot long, and looks like Godzilla compared to any other tank-mates. Personally I’m blown away that I was able to get him to live in this warm water environment, being that they live in 35f degree water in the wild. Does anyone have any advice???

  6. avatar

    I would assume that the warmer temps will eventually have a negative effect on it’s health, and I would also be cautious about the potential damage a lobster that size could do to the rest of the tank, including possible rock collapses. May want to consider a chiller if you don’t have one already…

  7. avatar

    Yes I have a blue reef lobster and found his arm/claw dismembered from him. Tonight I found that he is missing leg. I am pretty sure he had all 8 legs last night. I am concerned for this critter and hope he is not being bullied. Other tankmates include yellow tang, coral beauty, 2 cleaner shrimp, watchman goby, pistol shrimp, 2 clowns, 4 chromis, several starfish, sea urchin, snails and crabs. I have added more live rock for caves and hiding. I will wait to see what happens. They get varied diet of flakes, frozen mysis, pellets, silversides. Any thoughts?

  8. avatar

    Hi Lisa,

    Crabs would seem most likely, depending on species/size. You might try using a black/red “night bulb” to observe what’s going on after dark. Providing more shelter is the best you can do; unfortunately, you may also see problems when the animal molts, as crabs are very good at locating animals that are soft and defenseless (several hours, until new exoskeleton hardens) Feeding at night may help in some situations, but losses are common. Please keep me posted, best, Frank

  9. avatar

    I got a pink lobster and I put it in a tank with room temp it was swimming now it not even moving or responding to me moving it with a fish net, is it dead or shedding

  10. avatar

    Hello Kyle, What temperature is your “room temperature”? I can’t tell what kind of “pink lobster” you have, but most are tropical and would need the water temperature to be around 75-82 degrees. Is this a saltwater lobster or a freshwater lobster, and is it in a saltwater tank or a freshwater tank? If it isn’t moving at all, it sounds like it might have died; shedding doesn’t take that long and the lobster would still be able to move.

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.