A squat lobster, a small, pink, brown or red lobster with abnormally long arms, does not seem like anything special. However, when I began researching this small animal, I realized that it is a mysterious ambassador of remote ocean waters from the edges of the continental shelves of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans to depths of 700 meters. When curious ocean explorers enter these little-known places, squat lobsters, waving their long arms, dominate.
The conventional wisdom about squat lobsters says that they live on the ocean floor and reach from behind ocean rocks to scoop food from mud. In this behavior, they resemble their close relatives, hermit crabs, who also look out at the world from borrowed hiding places and rarely venture forth without armor.
However, recent research from the NOAA expedition off the coast of North Carolina reveals a different squat lobster approach to life. The expedition investigated two main zones where the lobsters live: the outer continental shelf (at a depth of 90 to 200 meters) where sunlight still reaches and the deeper Lophelia coral habitat (at a depth of 350 to 700 meters). Lophelia coral are not the brightly colored coral of the tropics. Rather they are white when alive and gray when dead.
The expedition's submersible sunk into this black and white world of Lophelia to find red squat lobsters not hiding at all but perched on top of the coral. They stabbed their claws out into the quick current to bring in unsuspecting fish. The researchers did not expect this behavior, and its discovery shows how little we know about the ocean depths. In this hunting technique, squat lobsters are unlike their close relatives hermit crabs who hide away in borrowed shells.
However, like hermit crabs, squat lobsters are residents of a transition between two worlds. In the habitat of the outer continental shelf, lobsters live near the plunge to the ocean depths. Hermit crabs are found in tide pools, transition zones between land and ocean. (More on hermit crabs.)
Along with the deep Lophelia habitat and the outer continental shelf, squat lobsters also live in Lophelia graveyards, areas where broken and dead Lophelia pieces have settled. The current runs quickly through this graveyard, and here squat lobsters become filter feeders grabbing food headed to the deep.