Determination of moulting events in rock lobsters from pleopod clipping

Rock lobster growth is routinely measured for research to optimise management measures such as size limits and quotas. The process of estimating growth is complicated in crustaceans as growth only occurs when the animal moults. As data are typically collected by tag-recapture methods, the timing of moulting events can bias results. For example, if annual moulting events take place within a very short time-at-large after tagging, or if time-at-large is long and no moulting occurs. Classifying data into cases where moulting has / has not occurred during time-at-large can be required and can generally be determined by change in size between release and recapture. However, in old or slow growth individuals the moult increment can be too small to provide surety that moulting has occurred. A method that has been used since the 1970’s to determine moulting in rock lobsters involves clipping the distal portion of a pleopod so that any regeneration observed at recapture can be used as evidence of a moult. We examined the use of this method in both tank and long-duration field trials within a marine protected area, which provided access to large animals with smaller growth increments. Our results emphasised that determination of moulting by change in size was unreliable with larger lobsters and that pleopod clipping can assist in identifying moulting events. However, regeneration was an unreliable measure of moulting if clipping occurred less than three months before the moult.


Gardner, C., Mills, D. (2013)
PLoS ONE, 8(8): e74146 [open access]