Lobsters comprise a family (Nephropidae, sometimes also Homaridae) of
large marine crustaceans.
Lobsters have long bodies with muscular tails, and live in crevices or
burrows on the sea floor. Three of their five pairs of legs have
claws, including the first pair, which are usually much larger than
the others. Highly prized as seafood, lobsters are economically
important, and are often one of the most profitable commodities in
coastal areas they populate. Commercially important species include
two species of
Homarus (which looks more like the stereotypical
lobster) from the northern Atlantic Ocean, and scampi (which looks
more like a shrimp, or a "mini lobster") – the Northern Hemisphere
Nephrops and the Southern Hemisphere genus Metanephrops.
Although several other groups of crustaceans have the word "lobster"
in their names, the unqualified term "lobster" generally refers to the
clawed lobsters of the family Nephropidae. Clawed lobsters are not
closely related to spiny lobsters or slipper lobsters, which have no
claws (chelae), or to squat lobsters. The closest living relatives of
clawed lobsters are the reef lobsters and the three families of
4 As food
Fishery and aquaculture
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Lobster, Crab, and a Cucumber by William Henry Hunt (watercolour, 1826
Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. Like
most arthropods, lobsters must moult to grow, which leaves them
vulnerable. During the moulting process, several species change
colour. Lobsters have 10 walking legs; the front three pairs bear
claws, the first of which are larger than the others. Although
lobsters are largely bilaterally symmetrical like most other
arthropods, some genera possess unequal, specialised claws.
Eyestalk of a lobster
Lobster anatomy includes the cephalothorax which fuses the head and
the thorax, both of which are covered by a chitinous carapace, and the
abdomen. The lobster's head bears antennae, antennules, mandibles, the
first and second maxillae, and the first, second, and third
maxillipeds. Because lobsters live in murky environments at the bottom
of the ocean, they mostly use their antennae as sensors. The lobster
eye has a reflective structure above a convex retina. In contrast,
most complex eyes use refractive ray concentrators (lenses) and a
concave retina. The abdomen includes swimmerets and its tail is
composed of uropods and the telson.
Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence
of hemocyanin, which contains copper. In contrast, vertebrates and
many other animals have red blood from iron-rich hemoglobin. Lobsters
possess a green hepatopancreas, called the tomalley by chefs, which
functions as the animal's liver and pancreas.
Lobsters of the family Nephropidae are similar in overall form to a
number of other related groups. They differ from freshwater crayfish
in lacking the joint between the last two segments of the thorax,
and they differ from the reef lobsters of the family Enoplometopidae
in having full claws on the first three pairs of legs, rather than
just one. The distinctions from fossil families such as the
Chilenophoberidae are based on the pattern of grooves on the
Lobsters live up to an estimated 45 to 50 years in the wild, although
determining age is difficult. In 2012, a report was published
describing how growth bands in calcified regions of the eyestalk or
gastric mill in shrimps, crabs and lobsters could be used to measure
growth and mortality in decapod crustaceans. Without such a
technique, a lobster's age is estimated by size and other variables;
this new knowledge "could help scientists better understand the
population and assist regulators of the lucrative industry".
Research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken or lose
fertility with age, and that older lobsters may be more fertile than
younger lobsters. This longevity may be due to telomerase, an enzyme
that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of
chromosomes, referred to as telomeres.
Telomerase is expressed by most
vertebrates during embryonic stages, but is generally absent from
adult stages of life. However, unlike most vertebrates, lobsters
express telomerase as adults through most tissue, which has been
suggested to be related to their longevity. Lobster
longevity is limited by their size. Moulting requires metabolic energy
and the larger the lobster, the more energy is needed; 10 to 15% of
lobsters die of exhaustion during moulting, while in older lobsters,
moulting ceases and the exoskeleton degrades or collapses entirely
leading to death.
Lobsters, like many other decapod crustaceans, grow throughout life
and are able to add new muscle cells at each moult. Lobster
longevity allows them to reach impressive sizes. According to Guinness
World Records, the largest lobster ever caught was in Nova Scotia,
Canada, weighing 20.15 kilograms (44.4 lb).
Lobsters are found in all oceans. They live on rocky, sandy, or muddy
bottoms from the shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental
shelf. They generally live singly in crevices or in burrows under
Lobsters are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish,
mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge
if necessary, and are known to resort to cannibalism in captivity.
However, when lobster skin is found in lobster stomachs, this is not
necessarily evidence of cannibalism – lobsters eat their shed skin
after moulting. While cannibalism was thought to be nonexistent
among wild lobster populations, it was observed in 2012 by researchers
studying wild lobsters in Maine. These first known instances of
lobster cannibalism in the wild are theorized to be attributed to a
local population explosion among lobsters caused by the disappearance
of many of the
Maine lobsters' natural predators.
In general, lobsters are 25–50 cm (10–20 in) long, and
move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they
swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomens. A speed
of 5 m/s (11 mph) has been recorded. This is known as
the caridoid escape reaction.
Symbiotic animals of the genus Symbion, the only member of the phylum
Cycliophora, live exclusively on lobster gills and mouthparts.
Different species of
Symbion have been found on the three commercially
important lobsters of the North Atlantic Ocean – Nephrops
Homarus gammarus, and
The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a
worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this article, discuss
the issue on the talk page, or create a new article, as appropriate.
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Lobster claw" redirects here. For the species of flowering plants,
Lobster served at the Fisherman's Wharf in Boston
Lobster served in Stokkseyri, Iceland
Lobster recipes include lobster Newberg and lobster Thermidor. Lobster
is used in soup, bisque, lobster rolls, and cappon magro.
may be dipped in clarified butter, resulting in a heightened flavour.
Cooks boil or steam live lobsters. When a lobster is cooked, its
shell's colour changes from blue to orange because the heat from
cooking breaks down a protein called crustacyanin, which suppresses
the orange hue of the chemical astaxanthin, which is also found in the
According to the United States
Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the
mean level of mercury in
American lobster between 2005 and 2007 was
In North America, the
American lobster did not achieve popularity
until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed
a taste for it, and commercial lobster fisheries only flourished after
the development of the lobster smack, a custom-made boat with open
holding wells on the deck to keep the lobsters alive during
transport. Prior to this time, lobster was considered a mark of
poverty or as a food for indentured servants or lower members of
society in Maine, Massachusetts, and the Canadian Maritimes. It has
been suggested servants specified in employment agreements that they
would not eat lobster more than twice per week, however there is no
evidence for this.
Lobster was also commonly served in
prisons, much to the displeasure of inmates.
American lobster was
initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait,
and until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a
low-priced canned staple food.
See also: Food grading
Caught lobsters are graded as new-shell, hard-shell, or old-shell, and
because lobsters which have recently shed their shells are the most
delicate, an inverse relationship exists between the price of American
lobster and its flavour. New-shell lobsters, have paper-thin shells
and a worse meat-to-shell ratio, but the meat is very sweet. However,
the lobsters are so delicate, even transport to Boston almost kills
them, making the market for new-shell lobsters strictly local to the
fishing towns where they are offloaded. Hard-shell lobsters with firm
shells, but with less sweet meat, can survive shipping to Boston, New
York, and even Los Angeles, so they command a higher price than
new-shell lobsters. Meanwhile, old-shell lobsters, which have not shed
since the previous season and have a coarser flavour, can be
air-shipped anywhere in the world and arrive alive, making them the
most expensive. One seafood guide notes that an $8 lobster dinner at a
restaurant overlooking fishing piers in
Maine is consistently
delicious, while "the eighty-dollar lobster in a three-star Paris
restaurant is apt to be as much about presentation as flavor".
Further information: Pain in crustaceans
Lobsters in a tank at a fish market
Several methods are used for killing lobsters. The most common way of
killing lobsters is by placing them live in boiling water, sometimes
after having been placed in a freezer for a period of time. Another
method is to split the lobster or sever the body in half lengthwise.
Lobsters may also be killed or rendered insensate immediately before
boiling by a stab into the brain (pithing), in the belief that this
will stop suffering. However, a lobster's brain operates from not one
but several ganglia and disabling only the frontal ganglion does not
usually result in death. The boiling method is illegal in some
places, such as in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where offenders face fines up
to €495. Lobsters can be killed by electrocution prior to
cooking, with one device, the CrustaStun, applying a 110-volt, 2 to 5
amp electrical charge to the animal. The Swiss government
banned boiling lobster live without stunning them first, From
March 2018, lobsters being prepared in
Switzerland will need to be
knocked out before they're put to death, or killed instantly. They'll
also get other protections while in transit.
The killing methods most likely to cause pain and distress are:
Any procedures whereby the abdomen is separated from the thorax
The removal of tissue, flesh, or limbs while the crustacean is alive
and fully conscious
Placing crustaceans in slowly heated water to the boiling point
Placing crustaceans directly into boiling water
Placing marine crustaceans in fresh water
Unfocused microwaving of the body as opposed to focal application to
Fishery and aquaculture
Lobsters are caught using baited one-way traps with a colour-coded
marker buoy to mark cages.
Lobster is fished in water between 2 and
900 metres (1 and 500 fathoms), although some lobsters live at 3,700
metres (2,000 fathoms). Cages are of plastic-coated galvanised steel
or wood. A lobster fisher may tend as many as 2,000 traps. Around year
2000, owing to overfishing and high demand, lobster aquaculture
expanded. As of 2008, no lobster aquaculture operation had
achieved commercial success, mainly because lobsters eat each other
(cannibalism) and the growth of the species is slow.
Examples of Nephropidae
The fossil record of clawed lobsters extends back at least to the
Valanginian age of the
Cretaceous (140 million years ago). This
list contains all extant species in the family Nephropidae:
Acanthacaris caeca A. Milne-Edwards, 1881
Acanthacaris tenuimana Bate, 1888
Dinochelus Ahyong, Chan & Bouchet, 2010
Dinochelus ausubeli Ahyong, Chan & Bouchet, 2010
Eunephrops Smith, 1885
Eunephrops bairdii Smith, 1885
Eunephrops cadenasi Chace, 1939
Eunephrops luckhursti Manning, 1997
Eunephrops manningi Holthuis, 1974
Homarinus Kornfield, Williams & Steneck, 1995
Homarinus capensis (Herbst, 1792) – Cape lobster
Homarus Weber, 1795
Homarus americanus H. Milne-Edwards, 1837 – American lobster
Homarus gammarus (Linnaeus, 1758) – European lobster
Metanephrops Jenkins, 1972
Metanephrops andamanicus (Wood-Mason, 1892) – Andaman lobster
Metanephrops arafurensis (De Man, 1905)
Metanephrops armatus Chan & Yu, 1991
Metanephrops australiensis (Bruce, 1966) – Australian scampi
Metanephrops binghami (Boone, 1927) – Caribbean lobster
Metanephrops boschmai (Holthuis, 1964) – Bight lobster
Metanephrops challengeri (Balss, 1914) – New Zealand scampi
Metanephrops formosanus Chan & Yu, 1987
Metanephrops japonicus (Tapparone-Canefri, 1873) – Japanese lobster
Metanephrops mozambicus Macpherson, 1990
Metanephrops neptunus (Bruce, 1965)
Metanephrops rubellus (Moreira, 1903)
Metanephrops sagamiensis (Parisi, 1917)
Metanephrops sibogae (De Man, 1916)
Metanephrops sinensis (Bruce, 1966) – China lobster
Metanephrops taiwanicus (Hu, 1983)
Metanephrops thomsoni (Bate, 1888)
Metanephrops velutinus Chan & Yu, 1991
Nephropides Manning, 1969
Nephropides caribaeus Manning, 1969
Nephrops Leach, 1814
Nephrops norvegicus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Norway lobster, Dublin Bay
Nephropsis Wood-Mason, 1872
Nephropsis acanthura Macpherson, 1990
Nephropsis aculeata Smith, 1881 – Florida lobsterette
Nephropsis agassizii A. Milne-Edwards, 1880
Nephropsis atlantica Norman, 1882
Nephropsis carpenteri Wood-Mason, 1885
Nephropsis ensirostris Alcock, 1901
Nephropsis holthuisii Macpherson, 1993
Nephropsis malhaensis Borradaile, 1910
Nephropsis neglecta Holthuis, 1974
Nephropsis occidentalis Faxon, 1893
Nephropsis rosea Bate, 1888
Nephropsis serrata Macpherson, 1993
Nephropsis stewarti Wood-Mason, 1872
Nephropsis suhmi Bate, 1888
Nephropsis sulcata Macpherson, 1990
Thaumastocheles Wood-Mason, 1874
Thaumastocheles dochmiodon Chan & Saint Laurent, 1999
Thaumastocheles japonicus Calman, 1913
Thaumastocheles zaleucus (Thomson, 1873)
Thaumastochelopsis Bruce, 1988
Thaumastochelopsis brucei Ahyong, Chu & Chan, 2007
Thaumastochelopsis wardi Bruce, 1988
Thymopides Burukovsky & Averin, 1977
Thymopides grobovi (Burukovsky & Averin, 1976)
Thymopides laurentae Segonzac & Macpherson, 2003
Thymops Holthuis, 1974
Thymops birsteini (Zarenkov & Semenov, 1972)
Thymopsis Holthuis, 1974
Thymopsis nilenta Holthuis, 1974
Gerard de Nerval, French writer who kept a lobster as a pet
Lobster War, an early-1960s diplomatic conflict between
France over lobster fishing territories
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nephropidae.
Lipke Holthuis (1991). Marine Lobsters of the World. Food and
Atlantic Veterinary College
Lobster Science Centre
Genera of Nephropidae (clawed lobsters)
Acanthacaris (2 extant spp.)
Dinochelus (1 extant sp.)
Homarinus (1 extant sp.)
Homarus (2 extant spp.)
Metanephrops (18 extant spp.)
Nephropides (1 extant sp.)
Nephrops (1 extant sp.)
Nephropsis (15 extant spp.)
Thaumastocheles (3 extant spp.)
Thaumastochelopsis (2 extant spp.)
Thymopides (2 extant spp.)
Thymops (1 extant sp.)
Thymopsis (1 extant sp.)
Principal commercial fishery species groups
Large pelagic fish
Other wild fish
World fish production
(incl. slipper & spiny)
California spiny lobster
Japanese spiny lobster
Tristan rock lobster
Chinese mitten crab
Declawing of crabs
Florida stone crab
Pie crust crab
Red king crab
Tasmanian giant crab
List of seafoods
Cod liver oil
Shark liver oil
List of seafood dishes
List of crab dishes
List of fish dishes
Fish and chips
Shark fin soup
Fish diseases and parasites
Mercury in fish
Scombroid food poisoning
Sustainable seafood advisory lists and certification
Declawing of crabs
Eating live seafood
Live fish trade
Pain in fish
Pain in crustaceans
Gathering seafood by hand
History of seafood
History of sushi
List of seafood companies
Black soldier fly maggots
Lamb and mutton
Cuts and preparation
Fillet / Supreme
Countries by meat consumption
Food and drink prohibitions
Ethics of eating meat
Feed conversion ratio
Environmental impact of meat production
List of meat dishes
Psychology of eating meat