Lobsters are crustaceans from the family Nephropidae. They are most closely related to crabs, shrimp and barnacles. They have segmented bodies, hard exoskeletons and paired jointed limbs. Most types of crustacean are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning their left and right sides are visually identical. Clawed Lobsters, however, have specialized front claws—the larger one for crushing and the smaller one for ripping and cutting. Just like people, clawed lobsters show preference or dominance towards one side. If the larger claw is on the right side, you're looking at a "right-handed" lobster.
There are many different species of lobster, but they fall into some basic groups. Spiny, and Slipper Lobsters have no claws and are more closely related to the Squat Lobster. Spiny Lobsters are commercially fished for their tails. Reef Lobsters and Crayfish are more closely related to the Clawed Lobster, the most well known of that family being the American or Maine Lobster. The lobster is primarily a carnivore, preferring fresh food such as clams, mussels, crabs and worms.
After a lobster hatches from its egg, it is extremely vulnerable. Of the more than 10,000 eggs the female will lay, only 10 may make it through the first month of life. It doesn't get easier. The young lobster must shed its shell (molt) numerous times in its first year, leaving itself open to cannibalism and predation. The lobster must molt to grow, and although the need slows as the lobster gets older, it will continue to molt and grow throughout its lifetime. Until the lobster reaches a suitable size (usually when it is 4 years old, depending on water temperature), it remains hidden in its shelter, feeding on food that drifts by. Even a mature lobster remains wary of predators and prefers a solitary, nocturnal life.
Lobsters not only have to molt to grow, the female has to molt to mate. The female will approach the male's den (females make the choice and prefer the biggest male in the neighborhood) and send out pheromones which tells the male she is ready to mate. He usually emerges with an aggressive posture—lobsters don’t like company. She returns his aggression or ignores him, either ploy works, and the male soon settles down and allows her to enter his shelter. Once inside, the female molts and leaves herself entirely vulnerable. If the male chose to eat her now, she would have no way to protect herself. But the male (who retains his shell) carefully cradles her during mating and will protect her afterwards. The female stays in the male's den for about a week, just until her new shell has grown and hardened.
Fun Lobster Facts
- The commercial fishing of the Maine Lobster is a $1.8 billion industry.
- Ever hear of a "lobster march?" Fishermen and divers have reported seeing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of spiny lobsters form into columns and migrate en masse. This practice often happens after a storm. The lobsters could be seeking a better food supply or warmer water. Scientists don't know.
- Lobsters have poor eyesight, but a fantastic sense of smell.
- Eating lobster was once considered a mark of poverty and they were served to indentured servants, slaves and prisoners. In one Massachusetts colony, servants rebelled and forced a contract stating they would not be fed lobster more than 3 times a week.
- In the early 1800s lobsters were so plentiful they were simply gathered from the shoreline by hand.
- There are severe restrictions and penalties on the harvesting of American Lobsters. Among the strongest advocates of these rules are the lobstermen themselves.
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