Lobster FAQ

Source: National Marine Fisheries Services' Northeast Fisheries Science Center

American Lobster

How many kinds of lobsters are there in the United States?

Two kinds of lobster-like crustaceans exist in U.S. waters: the “true” or American lobster and the spiny lobster. The true lobster has claws on the first four legs, lacking in the spiny lobster; the spiny lobster has a pair of horns above the eyes, lacking in the true lobster. The item marketed as “lobster tail” usually is a spiny lobster. The spiny lobster is found in warm waters off Florida, in the West Indies, and off southern California.

How far do lobsters travel?

Inshore lobsters tend to stay in one place, seldom moving more than a mile or so, but deepwater lobsters farther out on the Continental Shelf follow a seasonal migratory pattern shoreward in summer, returning to the Shelf again in the autumn. The record travel so far is 225 miles covered by a lobster tagged off the Continental Shelf and recovered at Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York.

What color is a lobster's blood?

Colorless. When exposed to oxygen, it develops a bluish color.

What is “tomalley”?

Tomalley is the lobster's liver. It turns green when cooked and is considered a delicacy.

How does a lobster grow?

Lobsters grow by molting. This is the process in which they struggle out of their old shells while absorbing water, which expands their body size. This molting, or shell-shedding, occurs about 25 times in the first 5–7 years of life. Following this cycle, the lobster will weigh approximately one pound. It may then only molt once per year and increase about 15% in length and 40% in weight. They can grow to be 3 feet or more.

How many times must a lobster molt before it reaches market size?

Between 20 and 30 molts take place before a lobster reaches the one-pound market size.

How old is a one-pound lobster?

No one knows exactly, but aquarium studies suggest 5 to 7 years.

How many one-pound lobsters are needed for a pound of lobster meat?

Five, on the average.

Can a lobster be kept alive in fresh water with ice?

No. Fresh water is lethal to a lobster. The animal has salty blood and tissue, which require a seawater environment if life is to be maintained.

Why does a lobster turn red when cooked?

The red pigment is the most stable component of the coloring in a lobster shell. The greens and browns which darken the shell in a live lobster are destroyed by cooking.

How can one tell if a boiled lobster was alive when cooked?

Upon the death of a lobster the tail loses its elasticity and ability to curl under the body. When plunged into boiling water, a live lobster curls its tail under. It remains in that position during and after cooking.

Is it possible to raise lobsters on a commercial basis?

Not yet, but research is underway to develop rearing techniques and to assess the economic feasibility of rearing the American lobster commercially. In the opinion of many scientists working with the American lobster, commercial aquaculture can be achieved in the near future with a sufficient level of effort. Future projections for the culture of the spiny lobster are not, however, optimistic. Unlike the American lobster, which has a relatively short larval life (several weeks), the spiny lobster has a larval life of about six or seven months. The fragile, demanding requirements of the early life present technical difficulties.

I've heard that lobsters molt, but I've never seen a cast-off shell. Why?

After molting, lobsters will eat voraciously, often devouring their own recently vacated shells. This replenishment of lost calcium hastens the hardening of the new shell, which takes about 14–30 days from the actual loss of the old shell.

Where are lobsters caught?

The American Lobster is found on the east coast of North America, from Newfoundland to North Carolina. In 1996, more than 70 million pounds of lobsters were landed in the U.S. Approximately 80% came from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.

What do lobsters eat?

Lobsters usually move around and hunt for food at night. It was once thought that lobsters were scavengers and ate primarily dead things. However, researchers have discovered that lobsters catch mainly fresh food (except for bait), which includes fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins, and sometimes even other lobsters!

How is the health of the lobster resource?

The Northeast is one of several fishery resources that is considered to be generally overfished. Fishermen and managers, however, are working together to develop management measures. Presently major conservation measures include safeguarding lobsters smaller than 31/4" carapace length (carapace length is measured from the rear of the eye socket to the rear of the main body shell). Any lobster that is smaller in carapace length than 31/4" must be returned unharmed to the sea. Egg-bearing females are also protected and if caught, must be placed back in the sea. Lobster traps must have escape vents to allow too-small lobsters to exit the trap while it is still on the bottom.

Where do lobsters live?

Small lobsters (less than 11/2" carapace length) hide in and about sea weeds and rocky habitat that provide adequate food and shelter from predators. Adolescent lobsters (11/2" to 31/2" CL) dominate coastal habitats and offshore areas. Larger, more mobile, adult lobsters may inhabit deeper waters and may return seasonally to shallow warmer waters.

When do lobsters mate?

A female lobster mates primarily after she has shed her shell (molted). Female lobsters can carry live sperm for up to two years. At any time she may decide to fertilize her 3,000–75,000 eggs.

Are lobsters different colors?

“Red as a lobster” is just a tale. Lobsters come in just about every color but red. They can be blue, light yellow, greenish-brown, grey, dusty orange, some calico, and some with spots. However, they all turn red when they hit hot water. The hot water cuts the link between astaxanthin, a red substance contained in the lobster's shell, and protein, which in cold water brings out the predominant coloring.

Can lobsters grow new legs?

Yes. Lobsters have the ability to regenerate some of their body parts, for example, the claws, walking legs, and antennae.

Do lobsters have teeth?

The teeth of a lobster are in its stomach. The stomach is located a very short distance from the mouth, and the food is actually chewed in the stomach between three grinding surfaces that look like molar surfaces, called the “gastric mill.”

Can lobsters smell their food?

Lobsters “smell” their food by using four small antennae on the front of their heads and tiny sensing hairs that cover their bodies. Their sense of smell is so fine that they can sniff out a single amino acid that tags their favorite food.

Do lobsters lay eggs?

A freshly laid lobster egg is the size of the head of a pin (1/16"). A 1-pound female lobster usually carries approximately 8,000 eggs. A 9-pound female may carry more than 100,000 eggs. The female lobster carries the eggs inside for 9 to 12 months and then for another 9 to 12 months externally attached to the swimmerets under her tail. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will float near the surface for 4 to 6 weeks. The few that survive will settle to the bottom and continue to develop as baby lobsters. From every 50,000 eggs only 2 lobsters are expected to survive to legal size.

Do many young lobsters survive to old age?

Lobster babies swim at water surface for 25 days. Only one percent make it to the bottom. These young lobsters shed their shells about ten times in their first year. A near-shore lobster has a 90% chance of ending up on someone's dinner plate.

What is the largest lobster ever caught?

The Massachusetts Lobstermen's association claimed a record when they caught “Big George” in 1974 off Cape Cod. The lobster weighed 37.4 pounds with a total length of 2.1 feet.


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