Lobster Facts

The American lobster, Homarus americanus, is synonymous with the Maine coast. Even when it is trapped in other places on the east coast of North America, it is often referred to as “Maine lobster.”

Lobsters have been fished commercially in Maine since the mid-1800s. In the past thirty years, the lobster has become a gourmet seafood item. Its sweet, tender meat has excited the palate of connoisseurs throughout the world. And, there is just nothing like the beautiful, bright red color of a freshly-cooked lobster.

Many people, however, are intimidated by lobsters. This will explain how to buy, cook, and eat lobsters.

When you buy a lobster, how do you tell if it’s alive?
As long as the lobster is moving – either its legs, antennae, or flipping its tail – it is alive. Lobsters should always be alive before cooking.

How many lobsters do I need to buy?
If lobster is to be served whole, a 1- to 2-pound lobster serves one person.

How many live lobsters make a pound of meat?
It is difficult to say exactly how many live lobsters it takes to make a pound of meat, mainly because lobsters contain more meat at different times of the year. In the middle of the winter when lobsters are most full of meat, it takes about 41/2 pounds of live lobsters to get a pound of meat. However, in the late summer, when lobsters have shed, it takes about nine 1-pound live lobsters to get a pound of meat.

How do you hold a lobster so you aren’t pinched?
Hold it at the end of the carapace where it joins the tail. Many cooks prefer to leave the bands on the claws when they cook lobsters to avoid being pinched. (Bands also prevent lobsters from damaging themselves and each other.)

If you cook lobsters with rubber bands on the claws, does it make them taste like rubber?
Tests conducted at the University of Maine showed there was no taste difference between lobsters cooked with rubber bands on the claws and those cooked with no bands.

How do you pack live lobsters to travel?
We put lobsters in a styrofoam or insulated outer box with jell-ice packs to keep them cold and wet newspaper or seaweed to keep them moist. Lobsters packed like this will last up to two days.

How long can you keep live lobsters in a refrigerator? How long will they stay alive?
Most will survive for at least 24 hours. Keep them covered with a damp cloth or a layer of seaweed to provide moisture. Live lobsters cannot be stored in fresh water or enclosed in plastic bags.

How long can you keep cooked lobster in the refrigerator?
It will probably be good for 3 to 4 days.

When is lobster less expensive to buy? Why?
In Maine, lobsters are less expensive from the end of August to the beginning of November because that is when most lobsters are harvested.

What’s the difference between a hard-shell and soft-shell lobster? Is one a better bargain?
When a lobster outgrows its shell, it molts and discards or “sheds” the old shell. It then has a soft shell and is called a “shedder.” As the lobster feeds, its shell hardens, and it adds meat to its body. Soft-shell lobsters have less meat than hard-shell lobsters. It should also be noted that hard-shell lobsters will survive a lot longer in refrigerated conditions and are therefore a far superior lobster to ship live.

Is it okay to eat a soft-shell lobster?
Yes. Most people prefer soft-shell lobsters because they say the meat is a little sweeter and they don’t need any tools to crack them apart. We only ship soft-shell lobsters pre-cooked because they do not survive the shipping process as well as hard-shell lobsters. However when they are reheated they are just as delicious Also, because they do not need to be shipped overnight they are considerably less expensive.

How often does a lobster molt?
Lobsters molt about twenty-five times in the first 5 to 7 years of their lives. After that time, they molt less frequently – about once a year. After a molt, it takes months for a shell to harden and fill with meat.

How much do lobsters gain in size when they shed?
They increase about 20 percent each time.

How much water is necessary to boil a lobster? Should you use salt water?
Put one to two inches of water in the bottom of the pot to steam lobsters, or allow 21/2 quarts of water per lobster if you want to boil them. You don’t have to use saltwater, but most people would agree that lobsters taste better if you add sea-salt to the water or use seawater, which contains 21/2 to 3 percent salt. (Complete instructions on how to cook lobsters.)

How do you tell when a lobster is done?
The lobster will turn a bright red and the antennae will pull out easily when the lobster is done.

Why do lobsters turn red when they are cooked?
A live lobster is greenish-brown because of many different color pigment chromatophores. When it is cooked, all the pigments are masked except for astaxanthin, which is the background red pigment.

Does lobster contain much fat or cholesterol?
Lobster (without butter) is very low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Lobster meat also contains omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids, the substances that seem to reduce hardening of the arteries and decrease the risk of heart disease.

What part of the lobster is tomalley?
The tomalley functions like a combination intestine, liver, and pancreas in the lobster. Some people think this is the best part of the lobster to eat.

Is it necessary to remove the black vein in the tail before eating?
It won’t hurt you, but some people prefer to remove it because it is the intestine which is part of the digestive system and does not taste very good.

What is the red part that you sometimes see inside a lobster?
These are the roe or unfertilized eggs which have not been extruded. It is called “coral” and some people find it very tasty.

Are there parts of a lobster that are poisonous?

What are “culls”?
Lobsters that have lost one or both claws. It takes three or four molts for a lobster to regenerate a claw to full size.

Why does a lobster drop a claw?
A lobster can drop a claw as a defense mechanism (if his claw gets stuck or if he is coming up short in a lobster brawl) and grow another over a period of years.

What are chickens, quarters, selects, and jumbos?
The following common terms are used to describe the size of lobsters, according to the Maine Department of Marine

Resources: 1-pound: chickens
1-pound to 11/8-pound: heavy chickens
11/4-pound: quarters
11/2- to 13/4-pound: selects
2-pound: deuces or 2-pounders
2- to 21/4-pound: heavy selects
21/4- to 21/2-pound: small jumbos
Over 21/2-pound to approximately 4-pound: jumbos

What are “shorts” or “snappers”?
They are undersized lobsters that a lobsterman throws back into the ocean so they can grow to legal size.

Are large lobsters tougher than small lobsters?
Most people think there is no difference in tenderness between the meat of small and large lobsters. However, cooking a lobster for too long can make it tough. Also, according to some people, meat from soft-shell lobsters is more tender than that from hard-shell lobsters.

How old is an old lobster?
No one has yet found a way to determine the exact age of a lobster because it sheds its shell every time it molts. However some lobsters have been estimated to be over 100 years old

What do you call a female lobster? …….A hen.
When is a lobster a chicken? …..When it weighs about one pound.
When is a lobster a pistol? …….When it has no claws.
Why wouldn’t a lobsterman with shorts on want to meet a marine patrol officer? …….He has lobsters that don’t meet the the legal size.
Why shouldn’t a lobster walk into the kitchen? ……It’s the first chamber of a lobster trap.

How can you tell a male from a female?
The swimmerets, the small feathery appendages on the underside of the tail, will provide the answer. The first pair of swimmerets closest to the body are hard and bony on a male, and soft and feathery like the rest of the swimmerets, on a female. Only the female has a small rectangular shield between her second pair of walking legs. This is the sperm receptacle where she stores the sperm after mating until she lays her eggs.

How big is a lobster’s brain?
Dave Dow, former Director of the Lobster Institute, claims a lobster has a brain the size of a grasshopper’s. The lobster brain is primarily just a collection of ganglia, or nerve endings.

It’s evident from the lobster brain’s lack of complexity that a lobster does not do much deep thinking, adding support to lobstermen’s claims that lobsters probably do not feel pain, certainly not in the way humans do.

How do you hypnotize a lobster?
To hypnotize a lobster, stand it on its head with its claws laid out in front of it and its tail curled inward. Rub your hand up and down the carapace making sure to rub between the eyes. Eventually it may stand by itself. (Whoever thought of this must have been really starved for excitement.)

Why are lobsters banded?

Crowded into tight quarters, lobsters become especially cannibalistic, which is why they must be banded in a lobster pound or store displays.

Lobster bands are small and strong. Lobster harvesters use a special tool that resembles a pair of pliers to open the rubber band to slip it over the lobster’s claw

Why do lobstermen release a berried female?

Because berries are eggs and females with eggs are released so the eggs can hatch. The eggs spend at least ten months on the female. The colder the water, the longer the eggs take to hatch. A berried female is also marked with a V-notch in her tail so if she is caught again the lobsterman knows she was an egg-bearing female and releases her.

What are some of the more unusual types of bait tried?

After WW II, the LobLure Corporation tried to find a fool-proof type of artificial bait. Some of their unusual concoctions ranged from a bait bag that blinked like an electric light to less-promising kerosene-soaked bricks or white coffee mugs.

Why aren’t more lobsters raised through aquaculture?

Many sea creatures, including salmon, oysters, and mussels, are raised successfully through sea farming or aquaculture. Since lobsters command such a high price at the market, you would think there would be massive aquaculture operations to raise them. Lobsters are not easy to raise in captivity, and as yet no one has made a profit from it. Experiments have been conducted for years trying to find an economic way to raise them without much success.

Two problems repeatedly crop up:

Lobsters in close quarters will eat each other. When lobsters are raised in captivity, they are kept in large vats as larvae. Whirlpool currents keep the baby lobsters spinning beyond each other’s reach. When they settle to the bottom, they must be kept in individual pens and moved to ever larger enclosures as they grow.

Lobsters grow very slowly, taking an average of 5-7 years to reach market size. That’s a long time to feed and maintain them. They can grow faster in warmer water, but it still takes several years to reach market size. Factor in food costs (lobsters can be picky eaters in captivity), heating the water to make them grow faster, and treating disease, and it’s easy to see why raising a lobster to adulthood is expensive.

Another approach to lobster aquaculture has been to keep them captive only from egg to hatching to the fourth or fifth stages when they start to settle to the bottom. Hatchery operators then free the baby lobsters into the ocean and hope that they survive long enough to join the lobster fishery as market-size catch. A portion of the income from the sale of lobster licenses in Maine goes to fund a “seed lobster program” to support research in aquaculture or “sea farming.” Perhaps 100,000 larval lobsters are released into coastal waters each year.