Temporal range: Valanginian–Recent
American lobster, Homarus americanus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Suborder: Pleocyemata
Infraorder: Astacidea
Family: Nephropidae
Dana, 1852
Genera [1]
  • Acanthacaris Bate, 1888
  • Eunephrops Smith, 1885
  • Homarinus Kornfield, Williams & Steneck, 1995
  • Homarus Weber, 1795
  • HoplopariaM’Coy, 1849
  • JagtiaTshudy & Sorhannus, 2000
  • Metanephrops Jenkins, 1972
  • Nephropides Manning, 1969
  • Nephrops Leach, 1814
  • Nephropsis Wood-Mason, 1873
  • OncopareiaBosquet, 1854
  • PalaeonephropsMertin, 1941
  • ParaclythiaFritsch & Kafka, 1887
  • Pseudohomarusvan Hoepen, 1962
  • Thaumastocheles Wood-Mason, 1874
  • Thaumastochelopsis Bruce, 1988
  • Thymopides Burukovsky & Averin, 1977
  • Thymops Holthuis, 1974
  • Thymopsis Holthuis, 1974

Clawed lobsters comprise a family (Nephropidae, sometimes also Homaridae) of large marine crustaceans. Highly prized as seafood, lobsters are economically important, and are often one of the most profitable commodities in coastal areas they populate.[2]

Though several groups of crustaceans are known as lobsters, the clawed lobsters are most often associated with the name. Clawed lobsters are not closely related to spiny lobsters or slipper lobsters, which have no claws (chelae), or squat lobsters. The closest relatives of clawed lobsters are the reef lobsters and the three families of freshwater crayfish.



The fossil record of clawed lobsters extends back at least to the Valanginian Age of the Cretaceous.[3]


Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. Like most arthropods, lobsters must molt in order to grow, which leaves them vulnerable. During the molting process, several species change color. Lobsters have 10 walking legs; the front three pairs bear claws, the first of which are larger than the others.[4] Although, like most other arthropods, lobsters are largely bilaterally symmetrical, they often possess unequal, specialized claws, like the king crab.

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 a murky environment 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.[5] 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 haemocyanin which contains copper[6] (in contrast, vertebrates and many other animals have red blood from iron-rich haemoglobin). Lobsters possess a green hepatopancreas, called the tomalley by chefs, which functions as the animal's liver and pancreas.[7]

In general, lobsters are 25–50 centimetres (10–20 in) long, and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backwards quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomen. A speed of 5 metres per second (11 mph) has been recorded.[8] This is known as the caridoid escape reaction.


Recent research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken, or lose fertility with age. In fact, older lobsters are more fertile than younger lobsters. This longevity may be due to telomerase, an enzyme that repairs DNA sequences of the form "TTAGGG".[9] This sequence is often referred to as the telomeres of the DNA.[10][11] It has been argued that lobsters may exhibit negligible senescence and some scientists have claimed that they could effectively live indefinitely, barring injury, disease, capture, etc.[12] Their longevity allows them to reach impressive sizes. According to the Guinness World Records, the largest lobster was caught in Nova Scotia, Canada, and weighed 20.15 kilograms (44.4 lb).[13][14]


Animals of the genus Symbion, the only member of the animal phylum Cycliophora, live exclusively on lobster gills and mouthparts.[15]


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 rocks.

Lobsters are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary, and may resort to cannibalism in captivity; however, this has not been observed in the wild. Although lobster skin has been found in lobster stomachs, this is because lobsters eat their shed skin after molting.[16]


Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 410 kJ (98 kcal)
Carbohydrates 0 g
- Sugars 0 g
- Dietary fibre 0 g
Fat 0.59 g
- saturated 0.107 g
- monounsaturated 0.091 g
- polyunsaturated 0.16 g
Protein 20.5 g
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0 mg (0%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 4 mg (333%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 4 mg (27%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 2 mg (40%)
Vitamin B6 4 mg (308%)
Folate (vit. B9) 2 μg (1%)
Vitamin C 0 mg (0%)
Calcium 6 mg (1%)
Iron 2 mg (15%)
Magnesium 8 mg (2%)
Phosphorus 15 mg (2%)
Potassium 0 mg (0%)
Zinc 15 mg (158%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Steamed whole lobster, with claws cracked and tail split
Photo of split lobster claw on plate, covered by onions
Japanese lobster served in butter sauce

Lobster recipes include Lobster Newberg and Lobster Thermidor. Lobster is used in soup, bisque, lobster rolls, and cappon magro. Lobster meat may be dipped in clarified butter, resulting in a sweetened flavour.

Cooks boil or steam live lobsters. The lobster cooks for seven minutes for the first pound and three minutes for each additional pound.[17]

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the mean level of mercury in American lobster is 0.31 ppm.[18]


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.[19] 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, and servants specified in employment agreements that they would not eat lobster more than twice per week.[20] American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and it was not until well into the twentieth century that it was viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food.[21]

Caught lobsters are graded as new-shell, hard-shell and old-shell and, because lobsters that have recently shed their shells are the most delicate, there is an inverse relationship between the price of American lobster and its flavor. New-shell lobsters have paper-thin shells and a worse meat-to-shell ratio, but what meat exists is very sweet. However, the lobsters are so delicate that 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 flavor, can be air-shipped anywhere in the world and arrive alive, making them the most expensive. One seafood guide notes that an eight dollar 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".[21]

Animal welfare issues

The most common way of killing a lobster is by placing it live in boiling water (with or without spending a period of time in a freezer) or by splitting it by severing the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed or rendered insensate immediately before boiling through a stab into the brain, 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 or unconsciousness.[11] The boiling method is illegal in some places, such as in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where offenders face fines of up to 495.[22]

Fishery and aquaculture

Lobsters are caught using baited, one-way traps with a color-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Lobster is fished in water between 1 and 500 fathoms (2 and 900 m), although some lobsters live at 2,000 fathoms (3,700 m). Cages are of plastic-coated galvanized steel or wood. A lobster fisher may tend as many as 2,000 traps. Around the year 2000, due to overfishing and high demand, lobster aquaculture expanded.[23] As of 2008, no lobster aquaculture operation had achieved commercial success.


This list contains all extant species in the family Nephropidae:[24]


  1. ^ Sammy De Grave, N. Dean Pentcheff, Shane T. Ahyong et al. (2009). "A classification of living and fossil genera of decapod crustaceans". Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Suppl. 21: 1–109. http://rmbr.nus.edu.sg/rbz/biblio/s21/s21rbz1-109.pdf. 
  2. ^ "Homarus americanus, American lobster". McGill University. 27 June 2007. http://www.geog.mcgill.ca/climatechange/ReportsMap/lobsterRpt.pdf. 
  3. ^ Dale Tshudy, W. Steven Donaldson, Christopher Collom, Rodney M. Feldmann & Carrie E. Schweitzer (2005). "Hoploparia albertaensis, a new species of clawed lobster (Nephropidae) from the Late Coniacean, shallow-marine Bad Heart Formation of northwestern Alberta, Canada". Journal of Paleontology 79 (5): 961–968. doi:10.1666/0022-3360(2005)079[0961:HAANSO]2.0.CO;2. 
  4. ^ Carlos Robles (2007). "Lobsters". In Mark W. Denny & Steven Dean Gaines. Encyclopedia of tidepools and rocky shores. University of California Press. pp. 333–335. ISBN 9780520251182. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uufQnE7MzMkC&pg=PA333. 
  5. ^ M. F. Land (1976). "Superposition images are formed by reflection in the eyes of some oceanic decapod Crustacea". Nature 263 (5580): 764–765. doi:10.1038/263764a0. PMID 995187. 
  6. ^ "Copper for life - Vital copper". Association for Science Education. http://resources.schoolscience.co.uk/cda/11-14/biology/copch31pg1.html. 
  7. ^ Shona Mcsheehy & Zoltán Mester (2004). "Arsenic speciation in marine certified reference materials". Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 19: 373–380. doi:10.1039/b314101b. http://www.rsc.org/delivery/_ArticleLinking/DisplayArticleForFree.cfm?doi=b314101b&JournalCode=JA. 
  8. ^ "The American lobster – frequently asked questions". St. Lawrence Observatory, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. October 19, 2005. http://www.osl.gc.ca/homard/en/faq.html. 
  9. ^ John W. Kimball (November 25, 2008). "Telomeres". http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/T/Telomeres.html. 
  10. ^ Jacob Silverman. "Is there a 400 pound lobster out there?". howstuffworks. http://animals.howstuffworks.com/marine-life/400-pound-lobster.htm/printable. 
  11. ^ a b David Foster Wallace (2005). "Consider the Lobster". Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. Little, Brown & Company. ISBN 0-31-615611-6. http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster?currentPage=1. 
  12. ^ John C. Guerin (2006). "Emerging area of aging research: long-lived animals with "negligible senescence"". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1019 (1): 518–520. doi:10.1196/annals.1297.096. PMID 15247078. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1196/annals.1297.096. 
  13. ^ "Heaviest marine crustacean". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on May 28, 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20060528192250/http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/content_pages/record.asp?recordid=51451. Retrieved August 3, 2006. 
  14. ^ "Giant lobster landed by boy, 16". BBC News. June 26, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/5118370.stm. 
  15. ^ M. Obst, P. Funch & G. Giribet (2005). "Hidden diversity and host specificity in cycliophorans: a phylogeographic analysis along the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea". Molecular Ecology 14 (14): 4427–4440. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02752.x. PMID 16313603. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02752.x. 
  16. ^ "Homarus americanus, Atlantic lobster". MarineBio.org. http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=533. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  17. ^ "Cooking lobsters". Atwood Lobster Company. Archived from the original on June 7, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070607114042/http://www.atwoodlobster.com/site/cookinglobster.asp. Retrieved June 30, 2007. 
  18. ^ "Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish". Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/Seafood/FoodbornePathogensContaminants/Methylmercury/ucm115644.htm. Retrieved December 25, 2009. 
  19. ^ Colin Woodard (2004). The Lobster Coast. New York: Viking/Penguin. pp. 170–180. ISBN 0-670-03324-3. http://www.colinwoodard.com/lobstercoast. 
  20. ^ Henderson, Mark (October 24, 2005). "How lobster went up in the world". London: The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article581926.ece. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  21. ^ a b Johnson, Paul (2007). "Lobster". Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 163–175. ISBN 978-0-7645-8779-5. 
  22. ^ Bruce Johnston (March 6, 2004). "Italian animal rights law puts lobster off the menu". London: Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/1456270/Italian-animal-rights-law-puts-lobster-off-the-menu.html. 
  23. ^ Asbjørn Drengstig, Tormod Drengstig & Tore S. Kristiansen. "Recent development on lobster farming in Norway – prospects and possibilities". UWPhoto ANS. http://articles.uwphoto.no/articles_folder/lobster_farming_in_Norway.htm. 
  24. ^ Dale Tshudy (2003). "Clawed lobster (Nephropidae) diversity through time". Journal of Crustacean Biology 23: 178–186. doi:10.1651/0278-0372(2003)023[0178:CLNDTT]2.0.CO;2. http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&issn=0278-0372&volume=023&issue=01&page=0178. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lobster — Lob ster, n. [AS. loppestre, lopystre prob., corrupted fr. L. locusta a marine shellfish, a kind of lobster, a locust. Cf. {Locust}.] (Zo[ o]l.) 1. Any large macrurous crustacean used as food, esp. those of the genus {Homarus}; as the American… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • lobster — (n.) marine shellfish, O.E. loppestre lobster, locust, corruption of L. locusta, lucusta lobster, locust, by influence of O.E. loppe spider, a variant of lobbe. The ending of O.E. loppestre is the fem. agent noun suffix (Cf. Baxter, Webster; see… …   Etymology dictionary

  • lobster — [läb′stər] n. pl. lobsters or lobster [ME < OE loppestre, lopustre < loppe, spider (from the external resemblance: see LOB) + estre: see STER] 1. any of various families (esp. Nephropidae) of marine, bottom dwelling decapods with compound… …   English World dictionary

  • lobster — ► NOUN 1) a large marine crustacean with stalked eyes and large pincers. 2) the flesh of this animal as food. ► VERB ▪ catch lobsters. ORIGIN Old English, from Latin locusta crustacean, locust …   English terms dictionary

  • lobster — /lob steuhr/, n., pl. (esp. collectively) lobster, (esp. referring to two or more kinds or species) lobsters. 1. any of various large, edible, marine, usually dull green, stalk eyed decapod crustaceans of the family Homaridae, esp. of the genus… …   Universalium

  • lobster — /ˈlɒbstə / (say lobstuh) noun 1. → rock lobster. 2. any of various edible, freshwater, stalk eyed decapod crustaceans of the family Nephropidae, found in the Northern Hemisphere, with large claws and a smooth carapace; crayfish. 3. Especially… …  

  • lobster — [OE] The Latin word locusta denoted both the voracious grasshopper, the ‘locust’, and the ‘lobster’ or similar crustaceans, such as the crayfish (if, as has been suggested, the word is related to Greek lēkan ‘jump’, then presumably the… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • lobster — [[t]lɒ̱bstə(r)[/t]] lobsters N VAR A lobster is a sea creature that has a hard shell, two large claws, and eight legs. She sold me a couple of live lobsters. N UNCOUNT Lobster is the flesh of a lobster eaten as food. ...lobster on a bed of fresh… …   English dictionary

  • lobster — [OE] The Latin word locusta denoted both the voracious grasshopper, the ‘locust’, and the ‘lobster’ or similar crustaceans, such as the crayfish (if, as has been suggested, the word is related to Greek lēkan ‘jump’, then presumably the… …   Word origins

  • lobster — n. & v. n. 1 any large marine crustacean of the family Nephropidae, with stalked eyes and two pincer like claws as the first pair of ten limbs. 2 its flesh as food. v.intr. catch lobsters. Phrases and idioms: lobster pot a basket in which… …   Useful english dictionary

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