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What is a Lobster?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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A lobster is a crustacean in the family Nephropidae. Because several other taxonomic families are referred to as “lobsters,” some people distinguish the Nephropidae as the clawed lobster family, emphasizing the distinctive and familiar physical feature associated with the creatures in this family. Lobsters can be found all over the world's oceans, and they are a valued commercial harvest in many areas of the world.

While lobster is regarded as a delicacy today, this wasn't always the case. Well through the 19th century, lobster was a poor man's food, and it was often used as bait for more appealing seafood species. While it might seem ludicrous to lobster fans today, people in regions like Maine would complain about being forced to eat lobster for weeks on end, with no culinary variation.

The lobster is a invertebrate, with a stiff exoskeleton which can range in color from brown to greenish. The animals have long antennae and eyes on protruding stalks, along with five sets of legs. The forelegs have evolved into claws which are used to grasp and manipulate food items. Some lobsters may develop claws of unequal sizes for specific tasks, and in the event that the larger claw is lost, the smaller claw can grow to accommodate the situation.

In its first five years of life, a young lobster sheds its shell numerous times, in a process called molting. As the rate of growth slows, molting slows down as well, until the lobster molts around once a year. Left unmolested, a lobster can live to be over 100 years old, and it can get quite large, feeding on various small marine animals. Lobsters prefer the bottom of the ocean, which means that most live on the continental shelf, because conditions on the abyssal plain are too severe for lobsters.

Lobster reproduction is rather interesting. Many lobster species reproduce while the female is in molt, with the male depositing a packet of sperm which the female can store for up to a year, until she feels ready to use it. Once the female is ready to lay eggs, she forces the eggs through the sperm to fertilize them, and then attaches them to her tail, carrying them around until they are almost ready to hatch. At hatching time, the eggs are released and allowed to drift, with the baby lobsters living as drifting organisms until they are more fully developed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a lobster and how can it be identified?

Lobsters are marine crustaceans with a hard exoskeleton, belonging to the family Nephropidae. They can be identified by their long bodies, muscular tails, and live on the seafloor. Lobsters have five pairs of legs, with the first pair equipped with large, asymmetrical claws for feeding and defense. Their coloration typically ranges from blue-green to reddish-brown.

How long do lobsters typically live?

Lobsters can have a remarkably long lifespan, with some individuals living up to 100 years. They continue to grow throughout their lives, which contributes to their longevity. According to research, the oldest lobsters can weigh over 40 pounds and are estimated to be over a century old.

What do lobsters eat and how do they find their food?

Lobsters are omnivores, feeding primarily on fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They have a highly developed sense of smell and taste, which they use to locate food. Their antennae help them navigate and sense their environment, while their claws are used to catch and consume their prey.

Where are lobsters commonly found?

Lobsters are commonly found in all the world's oceans, but they thrive in the colder waters of the Atlantic coast of North America. Their preferred habitat includes rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms where they can hide from predators. They are particularly abundant in the coastal waters of Maine and Canada, which are famous for their lobster fisheries.

How do lobsters reproduce and how often?

Lobsters reproduce by the female releasing eggs, which are then fertilized by the male. A female lobster can carry thousands of eggs under her tail for up to a year before they hatch. Lobsters can reproduce annually, but the frequency can depend on environmental conditions and the health of the individual lobster.

Are lobsters important to the ecosystem and why?

Lobsters play a crucial role in the marine ecosystem as both predators and prey. They help maintain the balance by consuming dead animals and organic waste, thus contributing to the ocean's cleanup process. Additionally, as a prey species, they are a vital food source for a variety of larger marine animals, including fish and octopuses.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Babalaas — On Aug 23, 2010

@ Amphibious 54- I like to steam my lobster in White wine, butter, Italian parsley, and shallots. I do kill the lobster first then drop it into a stockpot that has a bottle of white wine boiling with the other ingredients. I leave the lid on for about 8-10 minutes, steaming until the entire lobster is pink. I also make sure that I do not let the juices form the lobster drain after killing it. I want those juices to be in my wine pot to further flavor the lobster. Best lobster recipe ever!

By Glasshouse — On Aug 23, 2010

@ Amphibious54- There is not really a humane way to kill anything. If you want to minimize suffering, you should kill it as quickly as possible. Drop the lobster head first into boiling water, or pierce the underside of its body with a sharp knife.

I prefer to pierce the lobster simply because I have been told that lobsters that die quickly are tenderer. They are not contracting their muscles while they are being slowly boiled to death (sorry to sound so harsh). I have also heard that if you put a lobster in the freezer for a little while, they will feel less pain, but hypothermia always seemed painful to me.

By Amphibious54 — On Aug 23, 2010

I love the taste of lobster, but I have always been squeamish of cooking live lobsters. I have never cooked live lobster, but I have heard you can almost hear them scream, is this true? Does anyone know a human way to dispatch of a lobster, and an equally simple way to cook one?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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