Facts About Maine Lobster

There are two primary types of lobster sold in the United States. The "true" American Lobster, and the spiny lobster. Most people commonly refer to the American Lobster as the Maine Lobster. Spiny lobsters, also known as rock lobsters, are a family of about 45 species of achelate crustaceans. Spiny lobsters are also called crayfish, sea crayfish or crawfish. Although they superficially resemble true lobsters in terms of overall shape, and having a hard carapace and exoskeleton, the two are not closely related.

Spiny lobsters can be easily distinguished from true lobsters by their very long, thick, spiny antennae, and by their complete lack of claws (chelae); true lobsters have much smaller antennae and claws on the first three pairs of legs, with the first being particularly enlarged. Like true lobsters, however, spiny lobsters are edible and are an economically significant food source; they are the biggest food export of the Bahamas.

Spiny lobsters are also found off the coast of Florida and California. Most of the product called lobster tail sold in the United States is from the spiny lobster.

The difference in taste between the spiny lobster and the Maine lobster is significant. The spiny lobster is much more mild and bland tasting, being quite close to tasteless. The Maine lobster has a very pronounced, succulent taste that is somewhat on the sweet side, although the meat is extremely low in sugars and carbohydrates (see lobster nutritional info for complete details.)

There are both male and female lobsters. The sex of a lobster can be determined by examining the first set of appendages behind the walkers. On male lobsters, they (gonopeds) are bony and thicker while the same appendages on the female are slimmer and feathery. In both cases, you have to investigate closely as they are often folded up tightly under the body. Another difference between males and females is that on females the tail is relatively broad compared to the male's tail. This is to accommodate the egg mass.

Lobster blood is a clear fluid. When the animal is cooked, the blood turns to an opaque whitish gel. It has a very mild, almost tasteless flavor and is perfectly safe to eat.

Lobsters can regenerate legs, claws, and antennae. In fact they can amputate their own claws and legs (autotomy) to escape danger. Often lobsters will drop a claw that is caught between rocks. The term 'amputate' can be in the passive sense as well. Lobstermen report seeing lobsters spontaneously drop a claw for no apparent reason.

A female lobster can mate only just after she sheds her shell (molting). When she is ready to molt, the female lobster approaches a male's den and wafts a sex "aroma" called a pheromone in his direction. The female lobster does the choosing. She usually seeks out the largest male in the neighborhood and stands outside his den, releasing her scent in a stream of urine from openings just below her antennae. His response is to fan the water with his swimmerets, permeating his apartment with her aroma.

He will then emerge from his den with his claws raised aggressively. The female responds with a brief boxing match or by turning away. Both responses seem to work to curb the male's aggression. The female then raises her claws and places them on his head to let him know she is ready to mate. They enter the den, and some time thereafter, from a few hours to several days later, the female molts. At this point she is totally defenseless and the male could easily kill and eat her, but that's not what he does.

Instead, he gently turns her limp body over onto her back with his walking legs and his mouth parts, being careful not to tear her soft flesh. The male, who remains hard-shelled, inserts his first pair of swimmerets, which are rigid and grooved, and passes his sperm into a receptacle in the female's body. She stays in the safety of his den for about a week until her new shell hardens. By then the attraction has passed, and the couple part with a cold indifference.

The female lobster's pregnancy is long: from mating to hatching takes perhaps twenty months. After mating, the female stores the sperm for many months. When she is ready to lay her eggs, she turns onto her back and cups her tail. Somewhere between 3,000 and 100,000 eggs are pushed out of her ovaries. They are fertilized as they pass through the sperm receptacle, marked by a small triangular shield at the base of her walking legs. The female lobster makes a sticky substance that attaches the eggs to the bottom of her tail. At this point she is said to be "berried". Berried females carry thousands of eggs attached to their swimmerets. In general, the larger the lobster, the more eggs she will carry.

She will carry the eggs for 9 to 11 months, fanning them occasionally with her swimmerets to bring them oxygen and to clean off any ocean debris that might stick to the developing eggs. When it's time for the eggs to hatch, the female lobster lifts her tail into the current and sets them adrift in the sea. It may take up to two weeks for all of the eggs to be released.

When first hatched, a lobster doesn't look at all like an adult lobster (which may be why lobstermen call it a "bug"). Feathery hairs on its legs help the baby lobster swim in the water for the first month or so after hatching. These tiny lobsters will float and swim near the surface for about 25 days. At this point they may be only 1/4" in length. Here they are prey for seabirds and for any larger animals in the sea, which is most of them. Most lobster larva are found within the top foot of the sea's surface. While at the surface the lobster will molt, or shed its shell, three times before it begins to look like a miniature adult.

By that time, as a "fourth-stage" lobster, it is somewhere between 15 days and a month old. At this stage, while the lobster is a very good swimmer, it appears to be helplessly bobbing up and down in the ocean. Actually, it is beginning to purposefully look for a place on the ocean floor on which to settle. The lobster may settle in a variety of habitats, such as a sandy bottom, but the preference seems to be for a hard bottom with lots of hiding places, such as cobble. This is where the most dense settlements of lobsters are found. For every 10,000 eggs that a female may release, only 1/10 of 1%--maybe 10--will survive beyond the first four weeks of life.

After the lobster settles to the bottom, it molts to the fifth stage. At this point, a small lobster still has many natural enemies. It spends the first year or so in a small tunnel which it can excavate, or in a crevice beneath rocks or other hard bottom material. Cod is the primary predator that feeds on small lobsters. Other predators include sculpin, eelpout, sea robins, skates, and even other lobsters.

During the first year, the lobster captures small prey which are carried in water which the lobster pumps through its living space using its abdominal pleopods (small appendages called swimmerets under the flexible abdomen, which is commonly called the "tail.") The tiny lobster spends the next few years, until almost age four, hiding under seaweed and small rocks, catching food that drifts down to it.

A small lobster rarely ventures out of hiding. If it does it is usually attacked by a fish within minutes. One experiment monitored by video suggested that new settlers could expect to be attacked within minutes if they did not find shelter. However, they outgrow that vulnerability with small increments in body size. Even as an adult, the lobster will avoid predators by remaining primarily nocturnal.

Lobsters molt (shed their shells) to grow. To do so, they secrete enzymes that soften the shell and connective shell joints. The shell splits up the back and the lobster backs out leaving it behind. A lobster will increase its size by about 20% at every molt. By the time a lobster is of legal size, it will have molted about 20-25 times. After a molt it is vulnerable because the new shell is very soft. The lobster will hide among the rocks on the bottom for 6-8 weeks until its shell hardens enough to offer some protection.

Lobsters may come in a variety of colors besides the usual blue-green, including blue, yellow, red, and white. Some even come in two colors, having half of their shell one color and the other half a totally different color. Of these only the white ones (true albinos) don't turn red when cooked.

Among other things, lobsters eat crabs, sea stars, and sea urchins. They are not by nature cannibalistic, except when held in crowded conditions (traps, pounds, etc.). Even with banded claws, it's still not unusual to find partially eaten animals in the live-tank when it's emptied.

The nervous system of a lobster is decentralized and has been likened to that of a grasshopper. Because of this ganglionic nervous system, lobsters do not feel "pain" the same way that humans do (central nervous system).

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About The Author, Greg Roy
G. Roy is a former recreational Maine lobster fisherman and owner of the site http://Lobster-s.com. For everything you ever wanted to know about the king of crustaceans, please stop by for a visit.