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Monday, November 10, 2008

Lobsters: Incredible animal body

  • It takes a lobster about seven years to grow to be one pound.
  • Lobster blood is a clear fluid. When the animal is boiled, the blood turns to an opaque whitish gel. It has no discernible flavor and is perfectly safe to eat.
  • Lobsters can regenerate legs, claws, and antennae.
  • Lobsters molt (shed their shells) to grow.
  • Lobster larva will molt about six times while still in the egg.
  • Lobsters exhibit 'handedness'. Some lobsters will have the crusher claw on the right side while others will have it on the left.
  • Lobsters may come in a variety of colors besides the usual blue-green, including blue, yellow, red, and white. ome even come in two colors, having half of their shell one color and the other half a totally different color. Of these only the white ones (true albinos) don't turn red when cooked.
  • The nervous system of a lobster is decentralized and has been likened to that of a grasshopper.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Infraorder: Astacidea
Family: Nephropidae

Lobsters are invertebrates, members of the Class Crustacea of the Phylum Arthropoda. This class includes animals without backbones and with hard shells like crab, shrimp, crayfish, water fleas and wood lice. A male lobster is called a cock and a female a hen or chicken (when she weighs about 1 pound). Lobsters are sexed by examining the first set of appendages behind the walkers. The male (gonopeds) are bony while the same appendages on the female are feathery. In both cases, you have to look closely because sometimes they are folded up tightly under the body. With a little practice, you can also tell by looking at the tail. On females the tail is relatively broad compared to the male's to accommodate the egg mass.

There are two kinds of lobsters, the "true" lobster (also called American lobster) and the spiny lobster. The true lobster has claws on the first four legs, lacking in the spiny lobster. The spiny lobster has a pair of horns above the eyes, lacking in the true lobster. Spiny lobsters also have two large cream-colored spots on the top of the second segment of the tail. Lobsters regenerate, in fact they can amputate their own claws and legs (autotomy) to escape danger. The term 'amputate' can be in the passive sense as well. I've seen a lobster spontaneously drop a claw for no apparent reason. The lobster's body has 19 parts, each covered by a section of the shell. The shell is thin and soft where the parts join, so lobsters can bend their body and move about. Lobsters breathe through gills located beneath the shell on both sides of their thorax (center part). Lobsters eyes are compound eyes, consisting of hundreds of lenses joined together on the ends of pair of jointed organs called stalks. The four small antennae on the front of their heads are used to "smell" their food or chemicals in the water. The tiny sensory hairs along their legs are used to "taste" their food. Lobsters keep their antennae and eye stalks moving constantly to search for food and to watch for enemies.

True lobsters have two very powerful claws. One claw is sharp and used for cutting, the other is bony and used for crushing. Lobsters that have their heavy ("crusher") claw on the right are considered "right-handed" and the others are "left-handed". Some lobsters are ambidextrous, they usually favor the claw that is the largest. Lobsters can lose claws, legs, eyes and antennae through accident or self-defense, but are able to regenerate them. Lobsters often fight with other lobsters for territory. If another lobster seizes their claw, they may drop their claw to escape. Sometimes, the more aggressive lobster will tear the claw of the opponent off. A lobster with a claw missing is called a cull It takes about 3 to 4 molt cycles for the claw to grow back to full size. Lobsters have a sophisticated nervous system that allows it to sense actions that will cause it harm and feel pain. Lobsters don't have an autonomic nervous system that puts it into a state of shock when it is harmed. For this reason, they will feel pain until their nervous system is completely destroyed. After they are released from the mother's swimmerettes and hatch, the larva will float freely in the water column and molt several more times before taking the form that we recognize as a lobster. At this point they may be only 1/4" in length.

Before they shed the old shell, they will form a thin one underneath. Growing lobsters secrete enzymes that soften the shell and connective shell joints. The shell spilts up the back and the creature backs out leaving it behind...including the membrane that covered the eyes. They will increase their size by about 20% at every molt. By the time a lobster is of legal size, it will have molted about 20-25 times, averaging 4-5 molts a year. After a molt the animal is vulnerable because the new shell is very soft. It will hide among the rocks on the bottom for 6-8 weeks until its shell hardens enough to offer some protection. They often eat their old shell which will replenish the lost calcium and speed up the hardening of the new shell. A young, immature lobster (first 5-7 years) will molt about 25 times a year. An adult male lobster molts twice a year and an adult female lobster once a year, usually in the summer. When lobsters get older, they will molt only once every 3-4 years. The only way to gauge the exact age of a lobster would be by their shell. However, since lobsters shed their shells so often, it is impossible to determine their age. Knowledge of body size at age makes scientists believe that lobsters can attain a maximum age of 100 years. The normal life span is about 15 years. Lobsters can grow to be 3 feet long in overall body length.


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