10 Facts About Lobsters

Crustaceans are popular creatures for a variety of reasons

When you think of lobster, do you picture a bright red crustacean on your dinner plate served with drawn butter, or do you conjure an image a territorial creature scuttling across the ocean floor? In addition to their popularity as a delicacy and their fame in popular culture, lobsters lead fairly fascinating lives. Read on to learn more about this iconic marine creature.

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Lobsters are Invertebrates

Maine Lobster
Maine Lobster. Jeff Rotman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Lobsters are marine invertebrates, the group of animals without a notochord (a rigid, cartilaginous spinal structure). Like many invertebrates lacking a "backbone," lobsters are protected by a hard exoskeleton that provides structure to their bodies.

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Not All Lobsters Have Claws

Spiny Lobster / Borut Furlan / WaterFrame / Getty Images
Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Cuba. Borut Furlan / WaterFrame / Getty Images

There are two kinds of lobsters: clawed lobsters and spiny lobsters (or rock lobsters). Clawed lobsters are generally found in cold marine waters and include the ​American lobster, a popular variety served at seafood restaurants, especially in New England.

Spiny lobsters do not have claws. They do, however, have long, strong antennae. These lobsters are generally found in warm water environments such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. As a seafood dish, they most often show up on the menu as lobster tail.

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Lobsters Prefer Live Food

Lobster among rocks
Lobster among rocks. Oscar Robertsson/EyeEm/Getty Images

Although they have a reputation for being scavengers and even cannibals, studies of wild lobsters show that they prefer live prey. These bottom-dwellers feast on fish, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans. Although lobsters may eat other lobsters in captivity, such behavior has not been observed in the wild.

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Lobsters Can Live a Long Time

Close up of red lobster on beach
Fernando Huitron/EyeEm/Getty Images

While it takes an American lobster six to eight years to reach a market weight of one pound, that's just the beginning. Lobsters are long-lived creatures, with estimated lifespans of more than 100 years.

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Lobsters Need to Molt to Grow

Molted lobster shell
Molted lobster shell. spiderment/Getty Images

Lobster shells don't grow, so as a lobster gets bigger and older, it molts and forms a new shell. Adult lobsters molt about once a year. During this vulnerable time, the lobster retreats to a hiding place and sheds its exoskeleton. After molting, the lobster's body is very soft and it can take a few months for the outer shell to harden again. As with soft-shell crabs, when fish markets advertise soft-shell lobsters, the crustaceans they're selling have recently molted.

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Lobsters Can Grow to Over Three Feet

World's Largest Lobster, New Brunswick / Walter Bibikow / Photolibrary / Getty Images
World's Largest Lobster, Shediac, New Brunswick. Walter Bibikow / Photolibrary / Getty Images

The largest American lobster on record was caught off Nova Scotia in 1977. It weighed 44 pounds, six ounces and was three feet, six inches long. Very few lobsters reach such mammoth proportions, however. The slipper lobster, a type of clawless lobster, is often only a few inches long.

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Lobsters Are Bottom-Dwellers

Spiny Lobster / Nature/UIG / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Leeward Dutch Antilles, Curacao,. Nature/UIG / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

One look at a lobster will tell you that long-distance swimming isn't in their repertoire. Lobsters do begin their lives at the water's surface, undergoing a planktonic stage. As the immature lobsters develop, they eventually settle to the ocean floor, where their preferred domiciles are rocky caves and crevices.

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You Can Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Lobster

Fishermen and 15 lb lobster
Jeff Rotman/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

How do you tell the difference between a male lobster and a female lobster? Look under its tail. Lobsters have swimmerets on the undersides of their tails that are used for swimming and during mating. Males have modified swimmerets that are slender and hard, while the female's swimmerets are flat and feathery in appearance.

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Lobsters Are Not Red in the Wild

American lobster
American Lobster, Gloucester, MA. Jeff Rotman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

People often mistakenly think lobsters are red but that's not the case. Most lobsters are actually a mottled brownish or olive-green color in the wild, with only a slight reddish tinge. The reddish coloring in a lobster's shell comes from a carotenoid pigment called astaxanthin. In most lobsters, this reddish hue mixes with other shades to form the lobster's natural color profile.

Astaxanthin is stable in heat, while the other pigments are not. When you cook a lobster, the other pigments break down, leaving only the bright red astaxanthin behind, which results in the iconic red coloring we generally associate with lobsters.

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Lobsters in Popular Culture

In addition to being popular food, lobsters have a long tradition in popular culture. Here are a few of their most notable appearances:

Big Lobster Sculptures: There are several impressive sculptures crafted in the likeness of oversized crustaceans. Despite its billing, at 35 feet, the "World's Largest Lobster" in Shediac, New Brunswick, a concrete-and-reinforced-steel structure created by Canadian artist Winston Bronnum is not the largest lobster. That honor goes to a sculpture measuring approximately 62' x 42' x 51' erected in Qianjiang, Hubei, China in 2015; second place goes to "Larry the Lobster" in Kingston, SE, South Australia, who measures in at 59' x 45' x 50'.

Lobsters in Literature: Lobsters make an appearance in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" in a scene that involves Alice, the Mock Turtle, the Gryphon, and a dance called "The Lobster Quadrille" in which dancers are partnered with lobsters. "You may not have lived much under the sea," the Mock Turtle said. ("I haven't, said Alice)—"and perhaps you were never even introduced to a lobster—" (Alice began to say "I once tasted—" but checked herself hastily, and said "No, never") "so you can have no idea what a delightful thing a Lobster Quadrille is!"

Lobsters in Film: In a pivotal scene in Woody Allen's 1977 comedy classic "Annie Hall" the lobsters that Allen and Diane Keaton playing the title character plan to make for dinner escape. “Annie, there's a big lobster behind the refrigerator,” Allen says. "I can't get it out… Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side.” Lobsters also make appearances in the 2003 comedies "Love Actually" (the Christmas nativity lobster) and "Finding Nemo."

Lobsters in Music: Released in April 1978, the B-52's had a hit with a song called "Rock Lobster." It was the B-52's first single to make the Billboard Hot 100, where it reached a respectable number 56, and eventually went on to reach number 147 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Lobsters on Social Media: For Halloween 2013, British actor Patrick Stewart (best known as USS Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard) posted a smiling Twitter selfie posing in his bathtub wearing a lobster costume.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "10 Facts About Lobsters." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/facts-about-lobsters-2291863. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2020, August 27). 10 Facts About Lobsters. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-lobsters-2291863 Kennedy, Jennifer. "10 Facts About Lobsters." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-lobsters-2291863 (accessed March 29, 2023).