As lobster lovers, we don't only want to give you the best information possible about how tasty lobsters can be. We also want to provide a better understanding of the lobster as a species. Why? Because understanding leads to respect, which helps us all to better care for lobster populations and habitats. This will ensure that we can continue to enjoy them well into the future.
The role of mother is a big deal for any species. While that role and the life cycles of many animals are often common knowledge, others are more mysterious— this includes crustaceans like the lobster. We can take some of the mystery about the mother lobster away, and answer some questions, including: How does a lobster come into the world? What does a female lobster do throughout this process? When and why is it illegal to keep a female lobster after catching one?
Here is a run down on how to identify a female lobster, what the beginning life cycle of a lobster looks like, and why it is illegal at times to keep a female lobster after catching one.
How to Tell if a Lobster is a Female
There are a two noticeable differences between male and female lobsters.
- A female lobster tail is larger than a male lobster tail. This is because a female must have room to carry eggs.
- If you look underneath the lobster's tail, you will see that a female's feeders are soft and crossed, while a male lobster's feeders are hard and touch while facing forward. There is a picture of this below.
Lobster Mate Selection
It takes a female lobster about one year from the time she hatches to become fully grown. Once she has reached her full size, she can reproduce. Lobster's can reproduce only after the female has shed her old shell and is in the process of growing into a new firm shell. This process is called molting. Both male and female lobster's molt throughout their life cycles.
The notion that lobsters mate for life as a pair is a myth.
Several female lobster's actually mate with one alpha lobster. Like many animals, when male lobsters encounter one another, sometimes in large groups, they will fight for dominance. They do this by locking together in an attempt to crush one another's claws. This can, and often does, involve more than two lobsters. The claw fight can last for days. The male lobster that prevails will mate with the female lobsters in the surrounding area.
After that, finding a male lobster to mate with is mostly up to the female lobster. The female lobster will find the den of an alpha lobster and release a pheromone near the entrance. Pheromones are chemical secretions or excretions that prompt a certain response from a member of the same species. The scent of male and female sweat for example has the potential to attract members of the opposite sex in humans in a similar way.
After smelling the pheromone, the male lobster will be seduced into allowing the female lobster to enter his den. The male lobster will guard the female here for up to two weeks. During this time the female will shed her exoskeleton and the male will deposit sperm packets into her abdomen. The sperm is stored for up to 15 months until the female is ready to lay her eggs. After this is over, the female lobster leaves the den and the male waits for another female to come along.
Laying the Eggs
When the female lobster determines the time is right, she will release her eggs. The number of eggs on average is between 7,500 and 10,000. However, larger and older female lobsters can carry up to 100,000 eggs. The eggs pass the stored sperm and become fertilized. She then gathers the eggs and stores them under her tail for nine to 12 months. The eggs under her tail look like berries, which is why a female lobster with eggs is often referred to as a "berried lobster".
A female lobster with eggs is illegal to catch and keep.
It is a Maine state law to v-notch any lobster caught that has eggs, and to return them to the ocean. A v-notch is simply a v-shaped mark made on the tail. This is a sustainability practice that helps to support the lobster population by ensuring reproduction.
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Pregnant "berried" lobster with a "V" notch[/caption]
After nine to 12 months have passed, the female lobster will find a safe place and release the eggs from under her tail. The eggs are buoyant and if they aren't let go in a proper place they could potentially float up, where they will likely be eaten by other fish. On average, approximately 10% of the eggs will survive long enough to reach adulthood. Lobster's look like larvae when they first hatch, but after molting at least four times, they start to resemble an adult lobster. These tiny crustaceans then molt another twenty times over six to eight years before they are fully grown enough to reproduce or be caught and eaten.
This is a video of a female lobster finding warm water to begin releasing her eggs:
Fully understanding the life journey of any creature is an important part of harvesting them sustainably and ethically. At Maine Lobster Now, we are dedicated to protecting the Maine lobster populations and keeping their habitats healthy.
Our live lobster are wild caught sustainably off of the coast of Maine.
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