When you think of lobsters, what comes to mind is an image of a red crustacean served on a large plate at a fancy restaurant.
However, lobsters are not only culinary delights; they are complex marine crustaceans that range across several genera and myriads of species. They are found in large numbers nearly everywhere in all of the world’s oceans, sometimes even in freshwater.
Lobsters are technically biologically immortal since their cells do not show any signs of aging. What does eventually kill them is damage to their shell in the form of rot, injury, or infection. This brings their lifespan to about 50 years on average.
Belonging to phylum Arthropoda, lobsters have a hard exoskeleton that covers a softer flesh underneath and has ten legs for locomotion. Their lifespan is often cut short by fisherman, and the species is rapidly going down in population in various parts of the world due to overfishing.
NOTE: If you’ve ever wondered if lobsters can be pets, check out my article here, explaining all about what types of lobsters would make good pets!
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They are usually found roaming on sea beds, but some species prefer to live in shallow waters. In total, there are about 80-90 species of lobsters contained in more than 15 different genera.
Let us consider the differences and similarities between species while learning more about their lives, the cuisines they are used in, their cultural value and much more.
Lobsters have elongated, rigid, and segmented bodies with five pairs of legs. Their tails are muscular, flipper-like, and used for swimming along with the ten legs. Lobsters can even swim in reverse gear using a combination of the flexure of their tails and abdomens.
True lobsters (those belonging to genus Homaridae) have claws at the end of the first three pairs of legs; the first claws are usually bigger in size. A distinctly visible snout covers their entire head and midsection.
The lobster diet contains a red pigment found in some plants that protects them from stress. This color is absorbed over time and travels to a deeper layer of skin. This is why lobsters are usually mottled brown in color, sometimes orange or blue.
When they are cooked in a pot of boiling hot water, however, the red pigment is released in full swing as blue and orange proteins break down. This gives lobsters their shining red color when cooked.
Click here to learn about a similar crustacean from the same family as lobster…the crab.
To some, the habitat of a lobster may seem to be on a large platter decorated around the edges with lemon wedges. Live lobsters in nature, however, are found living under crevices, cracks, and caves on rocky, muddy, or sandy bottoms. They can be found everywhere from beaches to the continental shelf.
Source: The American Lobster
A complex and detailed system of classification, taxonomy deals with arranging all living beings into a comprehensive system based on their traits and physical attributes.
Lobsters are categorized as follows:
Order: Decapoda (ten legs)
There are several genera within the Nephropidae family whose members can be classified as lobsters.
Source: Maine Lobstermen’s
Life and Ecology
After being carried by their mothers for a year, baby lobsters are released as larvae into the water where they go through several stages of development before they settle on the bottom of the ocean floor. This is where lobsters spend most of their lives, and there is plenty of food to go around there too.
Lobsters live in burrows they dig in rocks or among seagrasses. In order to grow, lobsters have to shed their shells multiple times in a lifetime as they go through growth spurts.
Source: National Geographic
When North America became populated by European settlers, lobsters were so plentiful that they used to wash up in bulks on the shore. In those times, lobster was not considered a chic meal; in fact, they had a bad reputation as the poor man’s food. Their abundance was such that they were even used as plant fertilizers.
With the advent of better transportation technology at the end of the 19th century, lobsters were brought to distant urban areas where they started gaining popularity as a delicacy.
Source: History Stories
In Arts and Culture
One of the reasons lobsters are famous in popular culture is because of the belief that they mate with only one other during their lifetime. They are extensively used in art and film as symbols for the same. This, however, is a myth.
The surrealist Salvador Dali, for example, created a sculpture named ‘Lobster Telephone’ with the crustacean replacing the handset and positioned in the cradle.
Another surrealist auteur Yorgos Lanthimos tells the story of a dystopian society in his film The Lobster, in which single people check in to a facility to find love within 45 days or they must be transformed into any animal they choose to live out their days.
From China to Europe to the US, lobsters are enjoyed and even celebrated, as food. It is one of the world’s most prized delicacies, meant for the crème de la crème. As covered in its history, it was not always this way. Today, however, it is the most luxurious food you can have with only a few other cuisines exceeding its fame.
The expensive, upper-class food is cooked into different delicious cuisines around the world. It is used in soups, rolls, bisque and many other kinds of dishes.
It is usually steamed or boiled alive after freezing so as to minimize pain, even though lobsters have unsophisticated neural networks that are not able to process complex sensory information.
Source: Lobster Gram
Kinds of Lobster
The clawed lobster is the most common kind and it is the one that comes to mind first. They have three pairs of claws out of their total five pairs of limbs. These lobsters are especially important for the fishing industry since they are the most widely consumed ones, and they are the ones you expect to be served on a platter when you order in a fancy restaurant.
This type includes European and American lobsters.
Source: Wilderness Classrooms
Reef lobsters belong to the genus Enoplometopus, which has 11 species in all. While reef lobsters are also a clawed variety, they are different from clawed lobsters; instead of having claws on three limbs, these lobsters only have one large set of claws on the first one. They are strikingly colored, with some even sporting purple or lavender markings.
This broad category is reserved for all lobsters that lack claws on the front of their bodies, and several species come under this genre. These crustaceans are easily recognizable because of their very thick and oversized antennae; this is where the word ‘spiny’ comes from.
These crustaceans are nocturnal in nature and feed on algae, snails, crabs, and other small creatures that dwell on the bottom of the ocean floor. If they are present, it means that the ecology around them is sure to be healthy and diverse.
Spiny lobsters are best known for their mass migration after rainstorms at their place of habitation.
In slipper lobsters, the front claws are lacking while the antennae are enlarged. Because of their flattened look, it seems like their faces have been squashed. These lobsters hide under the mud during day time instead of lounging in crevices like others, and because of this quality, they are not favored much as food.
Source: Wakiki Aquarium
One of the main characteristics that give furry lobsters their name is the hair-like protrusions on their bodies that look like actual hair from a distance. These lobsters have large antennae but are small themselves, which makes them stealthy and so they are able to evade most lobster traps.
Source: It’s Nature
A unique mix of lobster and shrimp, squat lobsters are not ‘true’ lobsters; they are closer in the family tree to other crustaceans like crabs and hermit crabs. They find their homes in the various cracks and crevices of rocks, but they do dig into sand to find food.
What makes them especially interesting is the variety and diversity it shows in its coloring. Although there are hundreds of species of squat lobsters, one of the most famous ones is the ‘yeti crab.’
Source: Smithsonian Insider
Types by Genera
The lobster is spread across several genera in the marine world. Some genera have been discussed below.
These large lobsters have a cylindrical body that is covered with sharp spines, which adds the ‘spiny’ in their name. Their antennae are whip-like and long, while their eyes are tiny and lack pigment.
Acanthacaris is the only genus in the subfamily Neophoberinae and contains only two species: the Acanthacaris caeca, which is native to the Caribbean Sea and burrows several hundred meters under the sea bed, and Acanthacaris tenuimana, which is specific to the Indian and Pacific Oceans and is found in very deep sea bottoms.
Source: IUCN Red List
The genus is home to four species that are all found exclusively in the Western Atlantic Ocean. They include the Eunephrops bairdii, which is the typical red lobster, found about 230-360 meters deep in the ocean and the Eunephrops cadenasi which has a cylindrical body and enlarged first claws.
Other species are Eunephrops manningi from the Florida Straits and Eunephrops luckhurst.
Source: Marine Species
Homarus, Nephrops, and Homarinus
These three genres are similar in the dimorphism that occurs between claws- one for cutting and one for cutting. While Nephrops is more slender and has grooves along its abdomen, the Homarinus from South Africa has hairy claws. Nephrops is home to only one species (cape lobster), while Homarus and Homarinus have two and five respectively.
The Cape Lobster gets its name from Cape Town in South Africa, where it was discovered. It is a very rare and elusive species with only 14 specimens noted until 1992; the carcasses are displayed in various museums of the world. Its rarity led to the creation of a separate genus for classification.
Hoploparia and Nephropsis
Hoploparia is entirely filled with extinct species that were only discovered through intense studies of fossils. There are about 40 different species of fossil lobsters that were discovered in sediments across Europe, Argentina, Canada, and the US; they were carnivores that lived between the Jurassic and Paleogene periods.
Nephropsis, on the other hand, has 15 extant species discovered in several parts of the world.
Source: Journal of Paleontology
While Jagtia is also a genus comprised of fossil lobsters, it contains only one species that is different from other fossils in a number of ways- mostly the differing patterns of the grooves. The extant genres Thymops and Thymopides are also said to have been closely related to this species.
This genus contains about 15 living species and three that were discovered through fossils. Commonly known as scampi, these lobsters are especially important for fishery; the Australian and the New Zealand scampi are the most commonly harvested.
They are not dimorphic and their claws are equal sized, performing similar functions.
The only species found in the genus Nephropides is Nephropides caribaeus which is found in western parts of the Caribbean Sea. It grows in length to about 7 inches and is covered in curious tubercles. It is a deep-water species that is found in muddy depths.
The family Thaumastochelidae has about five known species of lobsters that reside in the deep sea, three contained in the genus Thaumastocheles, and two in the genus Thaumastochelopsis. The fifth species was discovered recently, and now usually considered a part of the lobster family Nephropidae.
What sets these creatures apart from other clawed lobsters is their complete blindness; an evolutionary trait that occurred as an adaptation to deep-sea life, and also their lone lengthy, and spiny chela.
Source: Marine Species
Thymopides, Thymops, and Thymopsis
The genus Thymopides contains mainly deep-water lobsters, that are either of two species: Thymopides grobovi and Thymopides laurentae.
While the former is common around the southern Indian Ocean at the vast depths of 1,220 meters, the latter has only been discovered at a single hydrothermal vent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at an astounding depth of about 3,500 meters.
The single species in genus Thymops, Thymops birsteini, also known as the Patagonian lobsterette, is a species of lobster native to the coasts of South America, the South Atlantic in particular. The tiny crustacean likes to hang out around muddy bottoms and is usually seen entering and exiting self-made burrows.
The genus Thymopsis contains only one species: the Thymopsis nilenta. This particular species is abundantly found in and around the Falkland Islands and in South Georgia, where it lives about 1,976–3,040 meters under the ocean.
Source: Sea Life Base
Fun Facts about Lobsters
Omnivores: Crabs are omnivores who eat anything they are provided with; be it tiny fish or large prey.
Cannibalism: When we said anything, we meant it. Lobsters often resort to cannibalism when food is scarce.
Nutrition for Symbions: Lobsters are the sole source of nutrition for the Symbion, which is the only member of phylum Cycliophora. It lives on an exclusive diet of lobster gills and mouthparts to stay alive.
Eternal Growth: Lobsters keep growing forever as long as they live; they are virtually timeless.
Odd Internal Organs: Lobsters are famous for the odd arrangement of their internal organs. They taste with their legs and chew with their stomachs, while their brains are located in their throats and kidneys in their heads!
The Lobster Scream: They ‘scream’ in pain when they are cooked, but it is not a scream of main. The sound is actually air that is trapped in the stomach and forced through the mouth after being taken out of water.
Limb Regeneration: Like something out of a sci-fi film, lobsters are able to regenerate lost limbs several times over their lifetime.
Biggest Animal on Earth: An important ancestor of lobsters, the Aegirocassis benmoulae, used to swim about in the sea many thousand years ago. At one point, it was once the largest animal on Earth.
Mating Ritual: Lobsters have a very interesting mating ritual: the female lobster seduces the male, then enters his den, sheds her shell, and stays around until her exoskeleton grows back. Once the eggs have been fertilized, she moves out and another femme fatale takes her place.
Dexterity: Lobsters, like humans, usually prefer one limb as their main one. They can also be ambidextrous in some cases.
Golf Balls: In an attempt to reduce waste and create biodegradable options, lobster shells that are usually tossed out were made into golf balls by a university professor in Maine.
Sources: Molecular Biology, TIME. The Verge
Although lobsters are exclusively harvested as food in most parts of the world, they hold much cultural and symbolic value as beautiful sea creatures found in every ocean. We hope you will think about the odd and fascinating crustacean that the lobster is when embarking on your next culinary journey, ordering it at a posh restaurant.
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