By Franz Scheurer
We love our Balmain or Moreton Bay bugs. The bugs' sweet, slightly drier and stronger tasting meat is considered superior to rock lobsters' by many gourmets, myself included.
Seven species of bugs have been identified worldwide and the two species in Australian waters are the Thenus species (Moreton Bay Bugs, subdivided into the sandbug, Thenus Orientalis and the mudbug, Thenus Indicus) and the Ibacus species (Balmain bugs, Ibacus Peronni).
Moreton Bay bugs live on mud or sand bottoms, in depths of 10 m - 60 m and are usually buried during the day and active at night and are found in the northern half of Australia. Balmain bugs, too are mainly active at night, but live in depths from 15 m to 650 m. and are found in the southern half of Australia. (Also found in a small pocket off the northern West Australian coast north of Broome)
The two are easily told apart by the position of their eyes. Balmain bugs' eyes are close to the body midline whereas the Moreton Bay bugs' eyes are at the left and right extremity of the body. Moreton Bay bugs can weigh just over 500g and Balmain bugs up to 400g. Interestingly, bugs travel backwards when they're in a hurry. Reverse gear is engaged by a 'flip' of the tail and pitch is controlled or induced by raising or lowering the short, broad antennae.
The other well-known species of bug is commonly called shovelnose lobster and resides in the waters of the Philippines and the Florida Keyes. They're part of the Skyllarides species. The Skyllarides Aequinoctalis in the Florida Bay are much larger, with a non-tapered tail and eyes at the body's midline and in a lobster catching tournament in 1998 Phillip Nelson bagged a 2.1 kg monster.
So next time you're eating bugs check out the eyes and confirm that the description of the bug meets the real name of the species.