Ise Ebi (Japanese spiny lobster) (イセエビ)

Ise ebi, or Japanese spiny lobster (Panulirus japonicus) is a species of lobsters that belongs to Parimuridae of Decapoda. In a broad sense, it indicates several kinds of Ise ebi that belong to Parimuridae (related species). It is a large-size lobster and inhabits a shallow sea in the tropical area, and it is recognized as one of the luxury food stuffs in Japan.


The body length of Ise ebi is usually twenty to thirty centimeters, and it sometimes reaches forty centimeters. The weight of a large one is close to one kilogram. The body shape is a thick cylindrical form, and whole body is covered with hard dark red shell with many spines. It also has solid antennae and ambulatory legs. Many species of Decapoda have two pairs of flexible antennas, but the secondary antenna of Ise ebi are thick and covered with hard shell. Ise ebi have a sounding organ at the base of the second antenna that makes creaky threatening sound when held. It has lateral grooves with short hair in the back of the abdominal part. In comparison, males have longer antennae and ambulatory legs than females. Females have larger abdominal appendages and their fifth legs (the hindmost legs) are transformed into little claws.

"Panulirus," the scientific name of Ise ebi, is the anagram of Palinurus belonging to Palimuridae, and its species name "japonicus" means 'Japanese.'
In English it is called "Spiny lobster" (lobster with many spines). However, lobsters are closer to crayfish than Japanese spiny lobsters, and lobsters are categorized into different groups of Decapoda. The two kinds have similar features such as a hard shell etc. But Ise ebi are different from lobsters in that they do not have large claws and spend a long larval stage (described in detail in 'life cycle').


Ise ebi range in off the coast of the Boso Peninsula down south to Taiwan in the Western Pacific, Kyushu, and southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Although it was once said that the Japanese spiny lobsters broadly ranged in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific, it has been found out that they belonged to different species as a result of further research.

It ranges in the shore reefs or a coral reefs in the shallow sea facing deep sea. During the day it hides in the ledges or rock caves, and at night they go out to hunt food.
It is carnivorous and it preys on small sea creatures such as shellfish and sea urchins
It sometimes eats sea weed. It eats the inside of shellfish by crushing their shells with it's cotyloid big strong jaws. Meanwhile, it's natural enemies, in addition to human beings, are sharks, parrot fish and octopus. On encountering its enemies, it jumps backward quickly by snapping its tail.

It has the strange habit of following other lobsters and, as a result, they form a line of lobsters during the breeding season.

Life cycle

The breeding season is from May through August, and females spawn their eggs after mating with males. They protect their eggs by holding the botryoidally-gathered small eggs in their abdominal legs for one or two months until they hatch.

The hatched larvae are called Phyllosoma and they are shaped like a leaf. As the broad tree leaf-like shape of the larvae is transparent and their bodies have swimming legs, their body shape is completely dissimilar from their parents. Phyllosoma larvae are carried by sea currents, and spend their floating life as plankton. Although the length of the period depends upon the species of Palimuridae, the period for Ise ebi is about 300 days. The shape and ecology of the larvae are totally different from their parents, and the larvae period is long. Therefore, there is an anecdote that when it was first found in the nineteenth century, no one imagined that it was Parimuridae larvae and a new taxonomic group called Phyllosoma was created.

The body length of the larvae is about 1.5 millimeter and they shed their shell about thirty times as they grow. The Phyllosoma larvae that have grown to about thirty millimeters metamorphose into Puerulus larvae. The Puerulus larvae, in reversal, have a different appearance from Phyllosoma larvae as it is known by the familiar name glass shrimp, and their shape becomes similar to their parents. However, their body is transparent, and their jaws and digestive tracts temporarily undergo regression and they do not feed. The Puerulus larvae swim toward the shore reefs on the coast by paddling with their legs using the saved fat as the energy from when they were Phyllosoma larvae. But how Puerulus larvae know the location of the coasts has not been yet discovered.

Puerulus larvae that have reached the shore reefs shed their shells in about a week. The Puerulus larvae that have taken the same shape of their parents start their walking lives as fry shrimp. They grow to ten centimeters in length in one year, fifteen centimeters in two years and eighteen centimeters in three years. They enter the period of maturity when they grow to about twelve centimeters in length.

Attempts to cultivate

By 1898, the first attempt to cultivate Phyllosoma of Ise ebi was conducted. In 1988 both the Fisheries Technology Center in Mie Prefecture and Kitasato University succeeded in cultivating Ise ebi until they reached the fry shrimp phase. However, commercialization of the cultivation has not been accomplished yet because the period of larvae is long and the death rate during the period is high, and in addition there are many problems controlling the growth of the larvae to reach the fry shrimp phase while reducing the rate of decrease.

But in 2001 the Nemuro-City Fisheries Research Institute succeeded with a complete culture of Minami Ise ebi, or Josus, and it is reported in 2003 that Minamiizu Station, National Center for Stock Enhancement, Fisheries Research Agency of Fisheries Research Agency succeeded in developing the rotating raising unit to increase the survival rate from the larvae to fry shrimp. With these facts, early commercialization to cultivate Japanese spiny lobsters is expected.


Ise ebi have been eaten since ancient times all over Japan. It was also called Kamakura ebi (lobster) or gusoku (armor) ebi (the shell of the lobsters are likened to armor). There is a theory that the Japanese word 'ebi' comes from describing Ise ebi (Japanese spiny lobster) that have long antennae as '柄鬚' (ebi).

In "Izumo no kuni fudoki" (the topography of Izumo Province) in 733, there is a description '縞蝦' (shima ebi) in the chapter of miscellaneous things of Shimane and Aika Counties. Although the species of '蝦' (ebi) has not been confirmed, according to "Jichu Gunyo" (Practices and Usage for Kurodo Chamberlain) in 911, '蝦' was donated from Settsu and Omi Province and delivered to the Imperial Palace. According the description of "類聚楽雑要抄" around 1150, '蝦' was used as a dried marine product at that time.

It is estimated that the book in which the name of '伊勢海老' (Ise ebi) first appeared was "Tokitsugu Kyoki" (Diary of Tokitsugu YAMASHINA). During the Edo period, Saikaku IHARA wrote about 'the high price of Ise ebi' in "Nihon Eitaigura" in 1688 and he also wrote a story about Ise ebi being sold at an extremely high price in Edo and Osaka because Ise ebi were given as a gift of early spring among daimyo (Japanese feudal lords) in "Seken Munazanyo" (Worldly Calculation) in 1692.
In "Honcho Shokkan" (Mirror of food in our country) in 1697, there is a description that 'Ise ebi and Kamakura ebi are big ebi.'
It also describes ebi (shrimp, lobster) as being essential as decorations for the New Year. The name of Ise ebi also appears in the book titled "Yamato-honzo" written by Ekiken KAIBARA in 1709.

It is said that the origin of the word Ise ebi comes from the fact that Ise is one of the major places that produces Ise ebi.
In addition to the fact, another theory is that the word 'iso ebi' (which mainly live in the rocky shores of iso) changed to 'Ise ebi.'
Also, as some of the kabuto (helmet) wear decoration likened to Ise ebi's long antennae in front of them, the appearance of Ise ebi with their thick and long antenna sticking out suggests brave samurai. It is also estimated that the way of saying Ise ebi came to be established because they were loved by samurai as a lucky charm with the punning of Ise ebi and 'isei ga ii' (spirited).

The custom to use Ise ebi as a decoration for New Year still continues now. In some areas Ise ebi is put on Kagami-mochi (a round rice-cake offered to a deity) as a decoration for celebration, and it is also used as one of the shinsen (food and alcohol offerings to the deities).

Ise ebi fishery

In the habitat of Ise ebi, it is considered as one of the precious marine resources. In the rank of the Ise ebi catches for each prefecture, Chiba Prefecture is the top followed by Mie Prefecture. And Ise ebi has been designated as the marine product of Mie Prefecture (on November 2, 1990).

The fishing season is from October through April, and many districts prohibit the catching them from May through August, which is the spawning season of Ise ebi, to conserve the resources. In Miyazaki Prefecture, the fishing season begins on September 2 and ends at the end of March. The Ise ebi caught in Aoshima, Miyazaki City is called 'Aoshima dore' (caught in Aoshima) and it is a specialty of Miyazaki.

During the spawning season, Ise ebi become thinner and their flavor deteriorates. The haul depends on the phase of the moon and weather, and on the moonless night many Ise ebi are caught. In addition, it is considered that the great meandering of the Black Current (warm current) off the coast of the Pacific side affects the haul. The fishing methods during the fishing season are mainly to use gill nets, diving fishing and tako odoshi ryo (the method to catch Ise ebi by scaring them using octopus). With the gill nets, a gill net is set in the evening and pulled in during the early morning. In dive fishing, divers catch Ise ebi hidden in the rocky shore by hand. In the tako odoshi ryo, divers wave a pole with an octopus on the end in the water and catch Ise ebi with a net when they are scared by the octopus, which is their natural enemy, and try to run away.

As Ise ebi are often served in the form of sugata zukuri (sashimi arranged in the original shape of a fish), its appearance is more strictly valued than other edible ebi (lobsters, shrimps, and prawns). When a pair of antennae called 'tsuno' (horn) and legs are broken, the commodity value deteriorates, therefore they are treated carefully when catching them. Ise ebi with broken horns and smaller ones are rarely shipped to market, so they consumed at the inns around the fishing ports. The dead ones because of the cracked shells and other reasons when they are landed are consumed at homes of people who are engaged in the fisheries. The injured Ise ebi exist at the rate of about one percent, and their commodity value is extremely low. The legs sometime fall off while they are shipped because they automize when they are shocked. Those for which the commodity value has deteriorated with broken antennae and legs are sometimes repaired and then sold at a high price. These days, however, due to the recession such Ise ebi are distributed at a reasonable price as imperfect foodstuff. As even after landing they continue to live for about one week by keeping them warm with blankets and rice husks, they are shipped and distributed under such condition. As they die because of their weakness to the cold when they are stored in the refrigerator, their commodity value further deteriorates.


In "Ryori Monogatari" (tale of food) in 1642 during the Edo period, there are some recipes on how to cook Ise ebi such as boiling and grilling. Nowadays, there are many kinds of recipes.

sashimi (fresh slices of raw fish)

Ise ebi (spiny lobster) soup

Zankoku yaki (cruel roast)

Fry (fried Ise ebi)


Nabe (a dish served in a pot on a table)


In addition, although there are no limitations in Japan on how to prepare lobsters, some states in the U.S. impose regulations about how to make the first cut into lobsters. If the lobster is not cut vertically so that the lobster's brain can be divided into right and left, some punishment is imposed by laws and ordinances including state law on animal welfare. This is due to the belief that unless the lobster is cut so that the brain is severed, the lobster would feel pain. The way of cutting is employed also in Japan, but this is because it is easier to remove the content from inside the shell.

Related species

There are eight genuses and forty-nine species of Parimuridae, and they are for edible use, ornamental, and other purposes. Strictly speaking, 'Ise ebi' indicates only one species among them. However, in the fishery industry in Japan Ise ebi is a generic name for some kinds of lobsters that belong to Parimuridae, and such kinds, including imported ones, are distributed under the name of Ise ebi.

Domestic species in Japan

As for domestic Panulirus in Japan, six species are known.

Kanoko Ise ebi, or Panulirus longipes (Alphonse Milne-Edwards, 1868)
About thirty centimeters in body length. This species resembles Ise ebi, but it has the name of 'kanoko' (fawn, literally young deer) because it has scattered white and orange spots on its body. Also, its first antenna (thin antenna) has seven horizontal stripes. It is widely distributed in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and in Nansei Islands the haul is larger than Ise ebi. And the spawning season is long from March through October.

Shima Ise ebi, or Panulirus penicillatus (Olivier, 1791)
About thirty centimeters in body length. It resembles Ise ebi, but its ambulatory legs have white vertical lines and its first antenna does not have horizontal stripes. It is widely distributed in the tropical Indian Ocean and Pacific islands, and in Japan it is distributed in the Izu Islands and farther south. One of its features is that it has a little more blackish body than Ise ebi.

Kebuka Ise ebi, or Panulirus homrus (Carl von Linné, 1758)
About thirty centimeters in body length. In every node in the belly there are convolutions with short bristles. It is different from Ise ebi in that the convolutions go around the body without breaking. The body color is bluish gray, the first antenna has seven horizontal stripes around it, its ambulatory legs have a patchy pattern in black and white, and the abdominal legs and the tail are orange. It is widely distributed in the Western Pacific and tropical Indian Ocean, but the population in Japan is small.

Goshiki (five colored) ebi, or Panulirus versicolor (Pierre Andre Latreille, 1804)
About thirty centimeters in body length. The body color is black, its carapace has yellow patterns, and every node has yellow hemming. And its ambulatory legs have yellow vertical lines, the abdominal legs have vertical lines in red and black, and the root of the second antennae and the tip of the tail are red. It is widely distributed in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, but its population is small. As its name indicates, because of the colorful body it is used as a stuffed specimen for ornamental purpose rather than for food for the table.

Nishiki ebi, or Panulirus ornatus (Johan Christian Fabricius, 1798)
The body length exceeds fifty centimeters, and it is the largest species among Panulirus. Its carapace is light-blue, its apophysis is orange the belly has black horizontal stripes and there are two yellow spots on each side of the belly. The first antenna and ambulatory legs are a patchy pattern of black and white. It is widely distributed in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It ranges from the outside slope of coral reefs to the deep sandy mud bottom, but its population is small. It is often stuffed and highly-prized for ornamental purpose because of its large and colorful body.

Aka Ise ebi, or Panulirus brunneiflagellum
It is distributed only off the coast of the Ogasawara Islands and part of the Izu Islands. It is sometimes found off the coast of the Kii Peninsula. It was discovered to be a new species by a research team of Mie University in 2005. It resembles Kanoko Ise ebi. But it is different from Kanoko Ise ebi in that the first antenna (a pair of antennas that stretch forward in front of the face) do not have white stripes, and the convolutions in the back of the second abdominal segment do not connect to the convolutions in the side. The fishing season is limited to two weeks to conserve the species because it is almost a species endemic to the Ogasawara Islands.

Species in foreign countries

Australian Ise ebi, or Panulirus cygnus (George, 1962)
It is about twenty-five centimeters in body length. The color of the body is bright pink and on the both sides of its belly is a line of white spots. It is distributed off the coast of western Australia.

American Ise ebi, or Panulirus argus (Latreille, 1804)
It is about thirty centimeters in body length. The body color is brownish yellow and in each abdominal segment there is a horizontal line of white spots.
They have the strange habit of moving in line, one following another when it moves to the deep places in the sea to hibernate in winter,
It is distributed in the western part of the Atlantic.

Minami Ise ebi, Jasus

Six to eight species are known in this genus and they are generally called Minami Ise ebi, or Jasus.

Australian Minami Ise ebi, or Jasus novaehollandiae (Holthuis, 1963)
It is about thirty centimeters in body length. Although it resembles Ise ebi, it has apophysis not only on the carapace, but on the shell of the belly, and it gives a rugged appearance. It is distributed in the sea of New Zealand and Australia. The majority of the 'Ise ebi' that Japan imports is of this species.

African Minami Ise ebi, or Jasus lalandii (H. Milne-Edwards, 1837)
Caught in Namibia and the Republic of South Africa
Most of this species is exported to Japan.

European Ise ebi, Palinurus

European Ise ebi, Palinurus elephas (Fabricius, 1787) Palinurus vulgaris (Pierre Andre Latreille, 1803)
Caught along the coast from Norway to Morocco in the north-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean.