Rare & Unusual Maine Lobsters
There are about 30 species of lobsters world wide. Some, like the Maine lobster, have the distinctive large claws. Others, like the spiny lobster found in more tropical waters, exchange the claws for extra long antennae. Spiny lobsters are more sociable than their clawed cousins and even share dens, so they have evolved without the battle hardware. Lobsters come in almost every color from greenish-brown to yellow to multi-colored. Blue lobsters have a genetic defect causing the shell only to have blue pigment. Genetic defects also cause rare color combinations, like half one color, half another. One such lobster, half orange, half green, was caught off Nova Scotia and is now at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Lobsters only turn red when they are cooked.
In lobster pairings, females have the final say. She can only mate right after she molts. Just before that happens she goes on the lookout for the largest male lobster she can find. A few jets of pheromones, or lobster perfume, wafted in his direction and he’s toast. The male comes out of his den with his claws upright as if to do battle. Sometimes the pair does a bit of light fighting; sometimes she just turns his back on him. The female lobster moves into the male’s den and shortly after sheds her shell. The pair mate and they stay together until the female’s shell hardens. She moves out, he goes back to his bachelorhood and it’s as if they’ve never met.
After mating the female stores the sperm for up to twenty months. When she is ready she will push out between 10,000 and 20,000 eggs into her cupped tail, fertilizing them along the way. The eggs are attached to the underside of her tail by a sticky substance and will remain there until hatching, some 9 to 11 months later. When it’s time the female will lift her tail, making sure the underside is facing the current and the little lobsters hatch and float away. It can take two weeks for all of those eggs to hatch.
Growing Up Lobster
Out of all those eggs, only a handful will survive to become adults. For the first few weeks of life the lobsters drift with the current, shedding its tiny shell maybe three times by the fourth week. Then something triggers the animal to head for the bottom of the ocean, preferably somewhere with a lot of hiding places. The animal can swim well now and scientists have observed them actually looking for a good hiding place. For the next year or so the lobster will stick close to its shelter, perhaps found between two rocks or in a tunnel that it creates. It eats tiny shrimp or other foods that drifts close to its home. Until it becomes large enough to avoid becoming an instant snack, perhaps the first five years or so, the lobster won’t venture far.
During this time the lobster continues to molt, or shed its outer shell. During the first five years the lobster grows fast and molts up to 25 times. As an adult that decreases to about once a year. The really large ones may go several years without molting. Adult lobsters have fewer predators than the young and venture out looking for food, except during molting. Instead of us humans, the lobster wears its skeleton on the outside. When it molts, its tender body is vulnerable to attack, so it hides. It also eats the old shell for the nutrients that help the new shell harden. Sea water is absorbed into the soft body to increase weight and size before the new shell hardens.
Maine lobsters are loners. They establish territories which they will fiercely defend, with the larger lobster usually winning. Their weapon is the claw, which can exert 27 pounds of force in a one-pound lobster and up to 58 pounds of force in a six-pounder. If damaged the claw usually grows back. If lobsters are forced to live together they will resort to cannibalism. A lobster in molt is also vulnerable to attack from other lobsters. The female is really hoping she picks the right lobster for the mating ritual or she becomes dinner rather than the object of his desire. Claws must be banded when the animals are placed in a lobster tank, not only for the handler’s protection, but to prevent them from eating each other. In aquariums they must be placed in separate tanks.
Giant Lobsters – How Big is Big?
We will probably never know how long a lobster can live or how big it can get. To find out we’d have to drain the oceans and then go on one big scavenger hunt. Most lobsters destined for the table weigh between one and two pounds. But every once in a while a lobster of amazing proportions gets hauled to the surface and these monsters assume celebrity status. In February of 2012 a 27-pound lobster was caught by a shrimp fisherman off of Rockland and turned over to the Maine State Aquarium. The 40-inch long creature was dubbed “Rocky” by the staff before being released back into the sea.
In the summer of 2011 an 18-pound lobster was caught off the Canada/USA border. It was destined for the New England Lobster Company but since it was too big to fit into a pot, the lobster now lives at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island. But the grand-daddy of all lobsters, so far, is a 44-pounder caught off of Nova Scotia back in 1977. This is the one in the Guinness Book of World Records and was thought to be at least 100 years old. Who knows, there may be a great-grand-daddy out there waiting to claim the title.