Squat lobster: Heavyweight of the deep

The Sternostylus rogeri, also known as a football crab or pāpaka whutupōro is a squat lobster – an important link in the sea’s food chain. They eat small animals like copepods, and also rotting organisms, such as tohorā carcases, from the sea floor.

Squat lobster, Sternostylus niwa, 2011. Photo courtesy of NIWA (TAN1104)

Behind those long pincers are three pairs of walking legs. Plus, the squat lobster has a fourth, smaller pair that it uses to clean its gills. Long pincers help it to protect itself, and reach for food.

See the hairs (or setae) on the squat lobster’s claws? They brush food off coral branches.

Football crab

The abdomen (tail) is normally tucked underneath their pincers, making them look squat.

Gastroptychus rogeri Baba, 2000, collected 22 July 1962, NE of Great Barrier Island, area of Moa Seamount, New Zealand. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (CR.019843)

For predatory fish, seabirds, and whales, squat lobsters make tasty meals. They are found on deep-sea corals around Aotearoa New Zealand and south-eastern Australia, 500–1,300 metres deep.

Squat lobster, Sternostylus rogeri, on a New Zealand black coral, 2007. Photo courtesy of NIWA

Squat lobsters have an unusual ability to survive with very little oxygen – giving them access to food in deep parts of the sea where other animals can’t go.

Squat lobster specimens, freshly caught and photographed on board ship, NORFANZ Expedition 2003. Photos by NORFANZ Partners. Compilation by Rick Webber & Raymond Coory. Te Papa

This page is part of Ngā Kaitiaki | Guardians section of Te Taiao | Nature at Te Papa.