In addition to being the subject of a fanciful song by the B-52s recorded in 1978, the rock lobster is a real animal, found widely distributed in the warm seas of the world. Rock lobsters are considered an important food source in some areas, and they are also widely exported; in the Caribbean especially, the rock lobster is a major export. Like other lobsters, the rock lobster has very flavorful, rich meat which can be eaten in a variety of ways.
The term “rock lobster” is used in various ways. Some people use it to refer to all of the crustaceans in the family Palinuridae, while others use it specifically to discuss the southern rock lobster, Jasus edwardsii, which is native to the warm waters of Australia. These rock lobsters can take up to two years to develop from their larval form, and like other lobsters, they are generally very slow to mature. They are typically caught in lobster pots, which are baited and set on the ocean floor.
You may also hear the rock lobster referred to as a spiny lobster, crayfish, or langouste. These lobsters are characterized by their knobbled and spiny carapaces, and the fact that they lack the large claws associated with lobsters. The largest recorded rock lobster was around three feet (one meter) long, with most catches being a bit more modest these days.
Rock lobsters are nocturnal, and they live in colonies. Evidence suggests that they are very social animals, feeding and migrating to new regions together, although sick and injured individuals will be abandoned. During the day, rock lobsters hide in the crevices of reefs and rocks to protect themselves from predators. The rock lobster also has another defense from predators: it can make obnoxious rasping and screeching noises by drawing its claws across its shell.
The rock lobster is most abundant in the waters between Australia and Asia, and it is a popular feature in Southeast Asian cuisine. It can be steamed and eaten plain, or picked to remove the flesh, which may be added to curries, soups, and other dishes, depending on where the lobster is being prepared. Rock lobster is also a frequent guest on mixed seafood platters.