|Top Speed||19km/h (12mph)|
|Conservation Status||Least Concern|
|Colour||Red, Brown, Blue, Orange|
|Habitat||Sea gardens and rocky beds|
|Average Litter Size||12|
|Main Prey||Clams, Mussels, Starfish|
|Predators||Human, Eels, Large fish|
|Special Features||Thick armoured shell and strong claws|
“Could lobsters hold the key to eternal life?”
The largest lobster species is the American lobster, which can be found from the coasts of North Carolina into Newfoundland. Because American lobsters grow continuously throughout their lives, they can reach sizes larger than any living crustacean. The largest known American lobster weighed in at 44 pounds 6 ounces (20.1 kg)!
Lobsters are closely related to insects because they have an exoskeleton and jointed legs like a spider. They’re omnivores eating both fish and algae. Lobsters have poor eyesight, so they depend on their ability to taste and smell while moving across the bottom of the ocean.
5 Incredible Lobster Facts
- With a brain in their throat and teeth in their stomach, lobsters have some of the most unusual anatomy across the animal kingdom. Their eyes detect shadows and light, but not colors or images. Their stomach contains their “teeth,” a gastric mill that crushes up food. A lobster’s brain is located in its throat and is about the size of a grasshopper’s. Their heart and central nervous system lays in their abdomen. In addition, lobsters “taste” with their feet and “hear” using a series of sensory hairs on their legs!
- A lobster underbelly is as strong as car tires! The underbelly membrane of lobsters (which protects against rocks on the seafloor) is about as strong as industrial rubber!
- The largest lobster ever recorded might have been 100 years old! The largest ever recorded lobster was caught off Nova Scotia in 1977 and weighed 44 pounds 6 ounces, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. While age estimates of lobsters are inaccurate, it is believed this lobster may have been 100 years old.
- Lobster used to be considered “cockroaches of the sea.” In the early 1800s lobsters were so plentiful in New England that they occasionally would wash ashore in piles two feet high! While lobsters today are seen as a “gourmet” food, they were so plentiful at the time that Massachusetts servants demanded they only be served a maximum of three dinners per week!
- The key to eternal life? Unlike most animals that stop growing once their adult stage is reached, lobsters grow continuously throughout their life. Does this mean lobsters could hold the key to “immortal life?” To read more, scroll down to our “could lobsters live forever?” section!
Lobster Scientific Name
While the American lobster is its common name, its scientific name is Homarus Americanus. Other commonly used names for the American lobster include the Atlantic, or Maine, lobster as well as the true lobster. A closer look at the taxonomy of the lobster reveals that it belongs to the Nephropidae family and is in the class Crustacea.
The spiny lobster is a subspecies of the American lobster. However, spiny lobsters live in tropical waters and don’t have large claws like American lobsters.
Lobsters belong to the order of Decapoda. The Greek word Decapoda deka meaning ten and pous meaning feet.
Lobster Appearance and Behavior
When you think of a lobster, you may picture a red lobster sitting on someone’s dinner plate. However, they don’t turn red until after they’re cooked. The American or Maine lobster is greenish brown in color. Lobsters can be found in different colors, but these variations are extremely rare. The Maine Fisherman’s Alliance estimates that:
- Every one in two million lobsters is blue
- Looking for a yellow lobster? They’re seen once every 30 million lobsters
- And white lobsters are even rarer! The chance of seeing a white lobster is about one in 100 million!
The brownish color of most lobsters allows them to blend in with the sand and rocks on the bottom of the ocean. This can keep them hidden from predators. If a lobster spots a predator, it will scoot backward using its tail fin to move into a rock crevice. The fastest speed on record for a lobster moving backward is 11 mph.
A lobster’s body has two main parts covered in a hard shell. It can grow to be a little more than three feet long. This animal is about half as tall as the refrigerator in your kitchen. Lobsters vary in weight. They can weigh from 1 pound to 15 pounds. Of course, there are lobsters that weigh more than 15 pounds. The heaviest lobster was caught offer Nova Scotia in 1988, it weighed more than 44 pounds!
The American lobster has two claws, antennae and two tiny black eyes. Its eyes don't play a big part in its nocturnal hunting activities. The small sensory hairs on its ten legs and feet help a lobster to identify its prey. Also, a lobster uses its antennae to smell prey even if it's far away. Just imagine of a lobster moving through the murky ocean water using its legs and feet to spot its prey!
Lobsters are solitary and shy animals most of the time. However, they become aggressive when defending their territory against other lobsters. One lobster may push another with its claws in an effort to move it out of the territory.
American lobsters live in the northern Atlantic Ocean. They prefer cold water habitats and live on the floor of the ocean hiding between rocks and digging in the sand. Different lobster subspecies, such as the Spiny lobster, live in warm, tropical waters like the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.
The tiny eyes of a lobster have thousands of lenses. Their eyes are sensitive to bright light, so it’s a good thing they live at the bottom of the ocean! Though they can’t see clearly, lobsters can see shadows and dim images which helps them avoid predators moving into the area.
These crustaceans use both of their claws to dig into the sand near a rock to make itself a home. This home can serve as protection against predators.
Scientists have found that American lobsters migrate away from the shoreline in the winter and spring. They want to live in the warmer, deep water during the cold weather months. As the weather warms up in the summer and stays warm into early fall, they move back toward the shore. Some lobsters move up and down the shoreline never staying in one place.
What do lobsters eat? Lobsters are omnivores. They eat mussels, sand fleas, clams, shrimp and sometimes tiny fish. They are slow-moving so they usually hunt slow-moving prey. They grab hold of their prey with their strong claws and squeeze. If they can’t find any of these animals to eat, lobsters eat plants that grow underwater.
Lobster Predators and Threats
Lobsters have many predators including eels, crabs, seals and rock gunnels. An eel is able to push its thin body into rock crevices to grab a lobster that's hiding there. Seals are fast swimmers and can catch lobsters with their powerful jaws. In addition, some fish such as flounder and cod also eat lobsters. However, the biggest threat to lobsters is man. Large numbers of lobsters are caught in nets to sell in seafood markets and restaurants.
When it comes to disease, lobsters can suffer from shell disease as well as different types of fungus and parasites. They are also threatened by chemicals and other pollutants in the ocean waters. The official conservation status of lobsters is Least Concern.
Lobster Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan
Lobster mating involves a dominant male that typically mates with a group of females. A unique aspect of lobster mating is that females must shed their hard-outer shell before mating, which leaves them at risk of predation. During this period females will live inside caves inhabited by males, who offer protection. After approximately two weeks’ time, the females shell will have regrown and she can leave with fertilized eggs. At this point, a new female will join the male.
A female lobster carries sperm from a male so she can fertilize her eggs in July or August. She carries her eggs on the underside of her abdomen for about ten months. The typical lobster carries 8,000 eggs at a time. But some female lobsters can carry as many as 100,000 eggs! After ten months, the female releases the lobster larvae also known as hatchlings into the ocean waters. A female lobster breeds every two years.
For four to six weeks, the larvae floats on or near the surface and eats plankton. During these weeks, the larvae molts (sheds their shell) several times growing a new one. After shedding its fourth shell, the larvae is large enough to sink down to the ocean floor.
Not surprisingly, its estimated only about ten percent of the lobster larvae grow big enough to sink into the ocean. Ten percent of 8,000 is 800 larvae. These tiny larvae are eaten by fish, seals, sea gulls and other animals before they're large enough to sink. Just imagine a seal swimming by and eating hundreds or even thousands of these little larvae at one time.
Once a young lobster does descend to the ocean floor, it makes its home by digging in the sand beneath a rock. At this point, the young lobster is about one pound.
Lobsters can live to be 50 years old or older. As they age, they can suffer from shell rot and various types of parasites. The oldest lobster in the world was caught in 2009. Scientists believe it’s 140 years old.
Lobsters have the ability to regrow legs, claws and antennae if they fall off due to injury or disease. In fact, scientists believe that losing a claw or leg is not a painful experience for a lobster. It can be lifesaving and prevent infection to the crustacean. This regrowth makes it a little easier to see how a lobster can live such a long life in the ocean!
The population of American lobsters in the Gulf of Maine is approximately 250 million. Though millions of lobsters are caught each year by fishermen, the population is holding steady. The total population of spiny lobsters and others that live in tropical waters is not known. The official conservation status of American lobsters is Least Concern. As a note, if a fisherman catches a female lobster who is carrying eggs on her abdomen, it’s against the law to keep her. The fisherman must put her back in the water. This is one of the efforts being made to make sure the lobster population steadily grows.
Are lobsters bugs?
No, not exactly. Sometimes lobsters are called bugs because they share a few characteristics with them. For one, both lobsters and bugs like grasshoppers have an exoskeleton (a hard shell). Also, lobsters and many bugs like crickets have jointed legs. A jointed leg has a few places where it can bend. In short, there are a lot of similarities between bugs and lobsters.
Are lobsters carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?
Lobsters are omnivores. They hunt sea creatures including mussels, clams, shrimp and sand fleas. But, if a lobster can’t find any of those animals, it will eat seaweed and other undersea plants. The larger of a lobster’s claws is called its crusher claw. It is the larger of the two claws. It's used to crush the shells of clams, oysters and similar lobster prey.
Are lobsters aggressive?
Normally, lobsters are shy, harmless sea creatures. But, a lobster will become aggressive if its territory is invaded by another lobster. It will use its claws and body to push the intruder out of the area. Also, male lobsters can be aggressive during breeding season when competing for females.
Do lobsters eat one another?
Some people believe that lobsters eat one another. This is known as cannibalism. But, this is not a proven fact. Lobsters have been observed to attack one another when they are packed together in a small tank. But, in the wild, lobsters aren't known to have this behavior.
Could lobsters live forever?
You may have seen headlines for lobsters claiming they hold the key to eternal life and could even contain a state called “biological immortality.” So, what’s the real story behind lobsters and living forever?
The idea that lobsters could conceptually live forever comes from their production of an enzyme named telomerase. In most vertebrates (like humans) telomerase is only produced in early stages of life and aids in growth. However, lobsters appear to produce telomerase throughout their lives, which means they continue to grow larger and even regenerate limbs at advanced ages like 100.
However, even with this fascinating biological quirk, lobsters will die as they age. The reason is that as lobsters get older the energy required to shed their shell (molt) becomes too great and they cease shedding their exoskeleton. Once lobsters stop molting, bacteria begin infecting their shells, and eventually leads to lobsters perishing whether by shell rot, or scar tissues that conjoin their bodies to their shells.
The bottom line: while lobsters have an interesting biological quirk that allows them to continue growing throughout their lives, they will perish from old age as they’re unable to molt any longer.