A century ago, farmers would use lobster to fertilize their potato fields. Around 1870, the first transformation plant opens in Gaspésie, taregting the interest for the product on the American market. In its natural habitat, the lobster has virutally no ennemy. Any potential predator trying for it’s flesh would break theet on it’s hard shell. Its two big claws serve multiple functions. The smallest is used to cut and the biggest is for crushing prey. This crusher claw is attached to the lobster’s strongest mussel, representing one third of the lobster’s total weight. The American lobster is mainly found between the Labrador coasts down to South Carolina, hiding in the shadows between the rocks.
Thanks to its antennae that the lobster can detect its food. Its eyes are not very sharp but its sense of smell is and it uses it like a hunting dog’s. That is why fishermen use it to their advantage and use fish pieces to lure the lobster into their cages. To catch its prey, the lobster uses its front walking legs, directing the food to its claws. It will normally feed on live prey like crab, sand worms, sea urchins and starfish. It will also occasionnaly look for clams in the mud and crush them with its strongest claw.
The lobster is mostly nocturnal. It awakens to hunt when the sun goes down and that is why cages are lifted in the early morning to catch the night’s crop.
The life of a lobster begins as a black egg in a cluster that looks a blackberry attached to it’s mother’s swimmerets (swimming legs) where it is fertilized with stored sperm from the spermatheca. The egg remains attached for a whole year before hatching. Every two years, the female collects and stores sperm from a male and lays between 1000 and 3000 eggs, depending on her size. Once the larva has hatched, it swims to the surface. At this point, it is less than a centimeter in length and its body is transparent with its internal organs showing. Within a few days, the larva molts and reaches the second stage in its development.
It grows bigger and its swimming legs develop on the abdomen. Then the third molting comes and the larvae has a growth spurt that brings it’s size to around 1,5 cm. Its tail is now complete and the swimming legs are covered with rudimentary cilium. At this stage in their development, the lobster larvae are part of the plankton, the free floating organisms that constitute many predators’ favored feeding soup. In fact, 95% of all lobster larvae are devoured by predators at this stage of their development. During the fourth stage of development, transformation is almost complete and the crustacean actually looks like a miniature lobster with all is organs and claws fully formed.
At this point, the lobster leaves the light and surface water to explore the marine floor. Young lobsters are easy prey for predators and they must dig tunnels in the mud to escape capture and survive for the next two years of their life, feeding on small invertebrate organisms that pass by. In their hiding place, they grow to adult size and the capacity to defend themselves from predators. Being nocturnal, the lobster will come out at night to hunt for food, its cilium and smaller legs feeling the ground, allowing it to navigate the darkness thanks to a very sharp sense of touch.
Here are a few more interesting facts about a lobster’s life:
Contrary to popular beliefs, the lobster will not walk backwards only when it feels threatened. To get away from predators or any other threat, the lobster will use its tail as a means of propulsion, even to jump backwards to flee as fast as 8 meters per second.
The lobster’s eyes are not directly on its head but on tiny mobile eyestalks. Each eye is made of 14000 retinal lentils but they don’t make for very good eyesight.
Aside from crushing prey, the claws are used to clear the entrance of the lobster’s tunnel.
The biggest lobster to ever be recorded in Gaspésie was around 100 years old and weighted 20 kilograms.
Determining a lobster’s age can be quite difficult because their shell will regenerate all through their life, shedding every time it becomes too tight, revealing a new, softer shell underneath. When the shedding occurs, it starts just between thorax and abdomen where the head will come out, as if the lobster was giving birth to itself. The main challenge in this process will be to remove the claws. A little like removing a big sweater with boxing gloves on. Fortunately, the shell on the legs decalcifies before shedding; making it easier to get rid of. Once it is free of its old shell, all shiny and new, the lobster will eat the remains of it former exoskeleton to reabsorb the calcium in it and help the new one harden.
The whole shedding process takes around 15 to 20 minutes during which the lobster is very vulnerable to attacks.
Fun fact: the lobster will shed at least 22 times in the 5 to 10 years before it reaches it’s commercial weight of 500 grams.