Life Cycle of the Lobster

The Life of a Maine Lobster

In the early days, four foot lobsters were not uncommon, and they grew even larger. In 1858, Robert Carter dropped a hook over the side of his boat in Pulpit Harbor, got it tangled in the tail of a lobster, and pulled in a 12-pounder! Today lobsters found in the fish market or on your plate at a restaurant are much smaller. That is because there are strict lobster conservation laws controlling the size lobstermen are allowed to keep. The catch is restricted to the minimum size of 3.5 inches from the eye socket to the beginning of the tail. This minimum length means that before a lobster becomes dinner it has to be given a chance to reproduce and lay its eggs. To protect known breeding females, lobsters caught carrying eggs are notched on a tail flipper. Following this, the female cannot be kept or sold.

The photo on your paper shows: The gauge used to measure the carapace of a lobster. If the carapace fits within the smaller (top) notch, the animal is too small to take. If the carapace is larger than the larger (bottom) notch, it is an over-sized animal and may not be taken in Maine.

The Lobster Life Cycle

Lobsters hatch from eggs and start life as tiny larvae floating near the surface of the ocean. After several days they molt, the process of shedding the old shell and developing a new and larger one. After another few weeks, they molt again, getting a little larger and more complex each time. A lobster may molt seven times in its first year. By the time it has reached a one-pound size, the lobster will molt only once a year. When it molts, a lobster leaves its shell intact, claws and all.

Adult lobsters molt at times partly determined by seawater temperatures. In Maine you’ll find shedders in July along the southern coast and in August farther east. The price for shedders, also referred to as soft-shell lobster, is less than for hard-shell lobsters because they have less meat per pound of lobster. However, some say that shedder meat is sweeter.

All of the world’s lobsters live in the sea. They cannot survive in freshwater like some crabs and crayfish do. They crawl along the bottom where they feed mainly on carrion, but also capture some live prey such as fish, crabs, clams and mussels. Due to their hard shell, lobsters have few natural predators. Maine lobsters are usually bluish green to brown with red spines, but a number of color variations have been observed. It is not until the lobster is cooked that its shell becomes red.

Maine lobster can weigh more than 40 pounds and grow up to 3 feet long, making it the heaviest crustacean in the world. The lobster’s pincers, or claws, account for up to 45 percent of its body weight. They tend to favor one front limb, meaning they can be right-clawed or left-clawed. When crowded into tight quarters such as store display tanks, lobsters tend to become cannibalistic. Sellers tightly band their claws to prevent them from feasting on their neighbors.

The lobster, which has changed little over the last 100 million years, is known for its unusual anatomy. Its brain is located in its throat, its nervous system in its abdomen, its teeth in its stomach and its kidneys in its head. It hears using its legs and tastes with its feet.