Clawed lobsters compose a family (Nephropidae, sometimes also Homaridae) of large marine crustaceans. Lobsters are economically important as seafood, forming the basis of a global industry that nets US$1.8 billion in trade annually.
Though several different groups of crustaceans are known as "lobsters," the clawed lobsters are most often associated with the name. Clawed lobsters are not closely related with spiny lobsters or slipper lobsters, which have no claws (chelae), or squat lobsters. The closest relatives of clawed lobsters are the reef lobster Enoplometopus and the three families of freshwater crayfish.
Lobsters 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 rocks.
Lobsters typically eat live food, consisting of fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. Occasionally, they will scavenge if necessary, and may resort to cannibalism in captivity; however, this has not been observed in the wild. Lobster skin in the stomachs of lobsters has been found before, although this is because lobsters will eat their shed skin after molting. Lobsters grow throughout their lives and it is not unusual for a lobster to live for more than 100 years. In fact, lobsters may exhibit "negligible senescence", in that they can effectively live indefinitely, barring injury, disease, capture, etc. They can thus reach impressive sizes. According to the Guinness World Records, the largest lobster was caught in Nova Scotia, Canada, and weighed 20.15 kg (44.4 lb).
Being arthropods, lobsters are largely bilaterally symmetrical; clawed lobsters often possess unequal, specialized claws, like the king crab. A freshly caught lobster will have a claw that is full and fleshy, not atrophied. The anatomy of the lobster includes the cephalothorax which is the head fused with the thorax, both of which are covered by the carapace, of chitinous composition, and the abdomen. The lobster's head consists of antennae, antennules, mandibles, the first and second maxillae, and the first, second, and third maxillipeds. Because a lobster lives in a murky environment at the bottom of the ocean, its vision is poor and it mostly uses its antennae as sensors. Studies have shown that the lobster eye is formed with a reflective structure atop a convex retina. In contrast, most complex eyes use refractive ray concentrators (lenses) and a concave retina. The abdomen of the lobster includes swimmerets and its tail is composed of uropods and the telson.
In general, lobsters move slowly by walking on the bottom of the sea floor. However, when they are in danger and need to flee, they swim backwards quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomen. A speed of 5 meters per second (about 11 mph) has been recorded.
Lobsters come in a variety of colors including, but not limited to, red, blue, green, purple, yellow, and magenta.
Lobster is a valued foodstuff; well-known recipes include Lobster Newberg and Lobster Thermidor. Lobster is best eaten fresh, and they are normally purchased live. Lobsters are usually shipped and sold with their claws banded to prevent them from injuring each other or the purchaser. Lobsters cannot open and close the claws when they are banded, which causes the claws to begin to atrophy inside the shell. Recently banded lobsters will not show this, and the claws will be full. Many restaurants that serve lobster keep a tank of the live creatures, often allowing patrons to pick their own.
Lobsters are generally prepared and cooked while they are still alive, even though both claws may have been removed. Most cooks place the live lobster into a pot of boiling water or steam which kills it. Lobsters are also served fried, grilled, or baked. Freezing the lobster may toughen the meat.
When boiling, the lobster is simmered for 7 minutes for the first pound and 3 minutes for each additional pound.
The majority of the meat is in the tail and the two front claws, but smaller quantities can be found in the legs and torso. Lobster can be boiled or steamed, or used in a wide array of dishes and salads. It can be served as soup or bisque or mixed with mayonnaise or salad dressing for lobster rolls. Lobster meat is often dipped in clarified butter, resulting in a sweetened flavor.
In North America prior to the 20th century, local lobster was not a popular food. In the Maritimes, eating lobster was considered a mark of poverty or as a food for slaves or lower members of society. Lobsters were also used as a fertilizer for farms. Outside of the rural outports lobster was sold canned.
The market for lobster changed with the development of the modern transportation industry that allowed live lobsters to be shipped from the ports to large urban centres. Fresh lobster quickly became a luxury food and a tourist attraction for the Maritime provinces and Maine and an export to Europe and Japan where it is especially expensive.
The high price of lobster has led to the marketing of "faux lobster" which is clearly labeled as such. It is often made from pollock or other whitefish that has been altered to look and taste similar to lobster. A few restaurants sell "langostino lobster". Langostino translates into prawn, however the actual animal is probably a crab. Maine fishermen are upset that restaurants are passing off the fake as lobster. The spiny lobster is also called langouste. Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill sold a "Lobster Burrito" which was made from squat lobster, another crustacean which is very similar to the crab.
The question of whether or not lobsters can experience pain is unresolved. Because of the ambiguous nature of suffering, most people who contend that lobsters do have this capacity approach the issue using 'argument by analogy' — that is, they hold that certain similarities between lobsters' and humans' biology or behavior warrant an assumption that lobsters can feel pain.
In February 2005, a review of the literature by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety tentatively concluded that "it is unlikely that [lobsters] can feel pain," though they note that "there is apparently a paucity of exact knowledge on sentience in crustaceans, and more research is needed." This conclusion is based on the lobster's simple nervous system. The report assumes that the violent reaction of lobsters to boiling water is a reflex to noxious stimuli.
However, review by the Scottish animal rights group Advocate for Animals released in the same year reported that "scientific evidence ... strongly suggests that there is a potential for [lobsters] to experience pain and suffering," primarily because lobsters (and other decapod crustaceans) "have opioid receptors and respond to opioids (analgesics such as morphine) in a similar way to vertebrates," indicating that lobsters' reaction to injury changes when painkillers are applied. The similarities in lobsters' and vertebrates' stress systems and behavioral responses to noxious stimuli were given as additional evidence for their capacity for pain.
A 2007 study at Queen's University, Belfast, suggested that crustaceans do feel pain. Acetic acid was placed on the antennae of 144 prawns; the animals responded by rubbing the affected areas. Professor Robert Elwood, who headed the study, argues that sensing pain is crucial to the survival of all animals, because it encourages them to avoid damaging behaviors. Some scientists responded, saying the rubbing may reflect an attempt to clean the affected area.
Morphine, an analgesic, and naloxone, an opioid receptor antagonist, may affect a related species of crustacean (Chasmagnathus granulatus) in much the same way they affect vertebrates: injections of morphine into crabs produced a dose-dependent reduction of their defensive response to an electric shock. (However, the attenuated defensive response could originate from either the analgesic or sedative properties of morphine, or both) These findings have been replicated for other invertebrate species, but similar data is not yet available for lobsters.
The boiling method (also used to kill crayfish and shrimp) is controversial because some believe that the lobster suffers. The practice is illegal in some places, such as in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where offenders face fines of up to €495. The Norwegian study states that the lobster may be de-sensitized by placing it in a salt solution 15 minutes before killing it.
Some stores will kill a lobster upon purchase by microwaving it. Whether or not death occurs more quickly than when the lobster is dropped in boiling water is not clear. There are, however, locations where the sale of a dead lobster to be eaten is illegal, including Massachusetts.
In 2006, British inventor Simon Buckhaven invented the CrustaStun, which electrocutes lobsters with a 110 V electric shock, killing them in about five seconds. This ensures a quicker death for the lobster. Seafood wholesalers in Britain already use a commercial version. A home version measuring about 46 cm width and depth came into the retail market in late 2006 for about £2000.
The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the sea and its animals. Lobsters were often depicted in their art. In the Japanese 1966 film Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and the 1970 film Space Amoeba, the Toho monsters Ebirah and Ganime, respectively, are both giant mutant lobsters. A recurring character on the television show SpongeBob SquarePants is a bodybuilding lobster named Larry. A lobster is also the main character in Edward Harriman's children's book Leroy the Lobster and Crabby Crab.
Although Acadians turned to lobster fishing only recently, lobster became an Acadian symbol in the 1990s and 2000's, very popular among tourists. Apart from the giant lobster in Shediac, souvenir shops around the maritimes sell plush lobsters. They appear on t-shirts, pins, and keychains; and semi-circular wooden lobster traps are a popular lawn ornament, even miles away from the coast. They often have the Acadian flag painted on them. That lobster mania grew stronger in 2003 as lobster-fisherman-turned-singer Wilfred Lebouthillier reached stardom in Quebec.
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