Maine Lobster

Maine Lobster

The Maine lobster (Homarus Americanus) is considered the most delicious crustacean in the world. And make no mistake, Homarus Americanus is the real deal; rock lobster, slipper lobster, spiny lobster, whatever lobster… are merely wannabes, riding on the fame of the authentic Maine lobster, Homarus Americanus.

While most inlanders appreciate the lobster only on the dinner plate, the Maine lobster’s life at sea tells a fascinating story.

Part of what sets the Maine lobster apart from other lobsters is its love of cold northern waters and its magnificent set of specialized front claws, packed with tender meat. The large crusher claw is characterized by a set of rough teeth along the inner edges of the claw’s surface and is used to break apart the shells of its prey. The slightly smaller pincher claw has finely serrated edges for ripping apart the soft inner tissues of the prey it hunts. Young lobsters have no distinction between the two claws, but as they age and hunt for prey, the differences develop. These large, front claws are also used during battles with other lobsters. They use their crusher claws, gripping each other in a test of might, endurance, and shell strength. In addition to the two massive front claws, the Maine lobster has four pairs of smaller legs positioned under the body and used for moving along the bottom of the sea. The entire lobster is covered with a hard exoskeleton called a carapace, generally a dark greenish brown that turns bright red when cooked.

Most abundant in the Gulf of Maine with its crystal clear, cold waters, the Maine lobster can be found north into Canada and south to the shores of North Carolina. This nocturnal crustacean thrives in the Gulf of Maine where the rocky sea floor provides plenty of hiding spots and abundant food. Feeding on small fish, crustaceans, and the tender soft bodies inside various mollusks, the lobster does its hunting at night, hiding from its predators during the day. Adult lobsters are preyed upon by large fish, seals, and fellow lobsters.

The Maine Lobster Life Cycle

Prolific breeders, a female Maine lobster can produce over 100,000 eggs during each breeding cycle. Younger females may produce only a tenth of this number of eggs. The extreme vulnerability of the floating larval stage in a lobster’s life necessitates this enormous number of eggs. It is estimated that only one tenth of one percent survive past the larval stage and reach maturity. The female carries the eggs for up to two years, half of the time internally, and the latter half externally. Only a millimeter in diameter, the bright orange eggs are carried beneath the tail and held in place with a special glue-like substance. At the time of hatching, the female disperses the young by fanning her swimmerets.

Female lobsters have been conscientiously protected by the lobsterman for well over one hundred years, as breeding females are essential to the survival of both the lobsters and the entire lobster fishing way of life. Any egg-carrying females that are caught have a V-shaped notch cut by the lobstermen into the tail flipper, identifying them as breeding females. If caught again, they will be recognized and released.

The tiny, floating larvae are shrimp-like in appearance and undergo a series of molts, replacing their shells as they outgrow them. Swept by the ocean currents, they grow and develop into the final juvenile stage. Only a few weeks old, they can now swim in a forward direction, the only time in their lives they are capable of this. This is the time when the little lobsters seek a protected rocky ocean bottom where they will be safe from predators.

Until they reach the age of maturity, at about five years old, the young lobsters molt their shells several times a year as they rapidly grow. Upon maturity, the males molt once a year and females once every two years, shedding their old shell as they grow a new shell beneath the old. A split develops along the back of the outgrown shell and the lobster struggles out. The new shell is soft, allowing the lobster to increase in size immediately after molting. Females generally mate after molting.

Although scientists are unsure of the exact life span of lobsters, it is estimated that they can reach the age of 50 to 100 years and grow  in excess of three feet. The Guinness World Record lobster, caught in the waters of Nova Scotia, was recorded at 3.51 feet in length and weighed in at 44.4 pounds.

A special delicacy enjoyed primarily along the coast, new shell lobsters are ones that have just molted. Sheathed in a fresh shell that is soft enough to break with your hands, they are prized for their tender and flavorful meat. Soft shell lobsters are difficult to transport and are thus a rare treat available only along the coast.

Maine Lobster Color Variants

Most Maine lobsters are a dull greenish-brown color that blends with their surroundings, but some striking color variants exist. Red lobsters resemble the color a lobster turns after cooking and are found infrequently. Although blue lobsters are rare, it is estimated their numbers run in the millions. The blue coloring is produced by the combination of a protein and a red pigment, creating a bright blue color. Yellow lobsters are so rare that when one is found it generally makes the headlines. Over three times as rare as the yellow lobsters, albino lobsters lack all pigment. Other strange and exceedingly rare color schemes include half-and-half lobsters where the colors are split perfectly down the middle of the lobster and multi-colored mottled lobsters. Most of these oddly pigmented lobsters are saved from the dinner plate and spend their lives in public aquariums where they are the focus of much attention.

Maine Lobster: A Sustainable Harvest

When Europeans first arrived in the New World, lobsters were so plentiful that over a hundred could be caught by simply throwing a small net into the ocean. So abundant in shallow coastal waters, they washed ashore during storms and could be collected from the beaches of New England. They were used for food and fertilizer by the American Indians and were an abundant, inexpensive source of high-quality protein for early settlers. Although numbers are fewer now than in the early days of colonial America, regulations have been in place since the 1870s to insure the future of the Maine lobster. Consumers of Maine lobster can be confident that they are eating sustainably harvested seafood.