Crustaceans are a kind of arthropod characterized by a hard exoskeleton shell, segmented head and body, and typically, antennae. A tremendous variety of crustaceans make their homes in Florida's shoreline and sea, and even in its freshwater lakes and ponds. Crustaceans include hundreds of types of shrimp, lobster, crab, crayfish, barnacles and even plankton, and there are more species of these creatures in the waters in and around Florida than any other state. Although Florida is home to several endangered species, a great deal of its crustaceans are highly sought seafoods.
A longtime staple on seafood restaurant menus everywhere, the waters off the coast of Florida — especially Florida's Gulf Shore — are teeming with diverse shrimp populations. One of the most significant varieties is the mantis shrimp, so named for its resemblance to a praying mantis. Mantis shrimp come in a variety of colors, from brown, cream and pink, to bold mixes of neon colors. Another prevalent species is the Florida cave shrimp, also called the Squirrel Chimney Cave shrimp. A cave-dwelling crustacean, this shrimp lacks a pigmented shell, so only its colorful internal organs are visible. The Stone Mountain fairy shrimp and the Florida fairy shrimp are a bit harder to find, as they are currently listed as endangered.
A staple of the state's seafood industry, Florida is home to several species of lobster. The largest and most common is the Caribbean spiny lobster, which can grow to more than 2 feet in length. Spiny lobsters inhabit most of the state's coastline, and the Florida Keys also boast a strong population. Rock lobsters are also fairly prevalent, as are shovelnose lobsters. According to the American Sportsman website, the shovelnose, most often found in the Panhandle region, lacks the antennae typical to most crustaceans, and also uses camouflage to lurk about caves and rock ledges. The spotted lobster is also native to Florida's waters, but is a bit harder to find, as they rarely grow large enough to catch.
Crabs of Florida
A particularly feisty crustacean, crabs are virtually everywhere in Florida — both on land and in salt and freshwater. The two most common marine crabs are the blue crab and the Florida stone crab. Blue crabs are the smaller of the two, and are primarily fished from the sea, although they can be found in some brackish tributaries or bays. The Florida stone crab, found in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is best known for its ability to regrow its claws. When harvesting these crabs, although the body meat is edible, fishermen will most often remove its primary claws and then return it to the water where its claws can regenerate over time. Some common terrestrial crabs include fiddler and hermit crabs, although they generally aren't consumed by humans.
By far the most diversified species of crustacean to inhabit Florida, there are more than 50 species of crayfish recognized as indigenous to the state, all of which are edible. Crayfish can be found both in the sea surrounding Florida and in freshwater rivers, lakes, streams and ponds. However, in spite of the tremendous variety of crayfish throughout the state, the Florida Nature website indicates that a number of these crustaceans are currently endangered, and are therefore protected by the state. One such protected crayfish is the Panama City species, which only inhabits a small portion of Florida's Bay County. Their decreasing numbers are due to land development. The black creek crayfish, also considered endangered, is a medium-sized nocturnal crustacean marked with white or even yellow spots on a black or brown body. This crayfish prefers life in the streams of the northeastern area of the state. Another particularly unique crayfish also listed as endangered is the Sims Sink crayfish, also known as the Santa Fe cave crayfish. This albino, sightless crustacean is perfectly suited for its rare habitats, which are primarily the darkened sinkholes, aquifers and springs in the northern portion of the state.