I love living on the Seacoast! My cottage is just a block from the beach and I get to hear the lobster boats go out in the early morning, just before the sun comes over the horizon. And did I mention lobsters? They are plentiful and inexpensive here.
Most of the lobsters we are familiar with are the cold water clawed marine crustaceans referred to as the “true” lobster, but there are tropical varieties as well which include the spiny lobsters and slipper lobsters (which have no claws), squat lobsters, and crayfish.
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. They are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary.
Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard exoskeleton, which means they have to molt as they grow. Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence of hemocyanin which contains copper. In general, true lobsters are 10-20 inches long (although they can grow up to four feet long and weigh as much as 40 pounds), and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomens. They live to be about 70 years old and are able to add new muscle cells at each molt. This longevity may be due to an enzyme that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres.
Did you know that lobsters were once so plentiful that after a storm they would wash ashore in deep piles? They were gathered by hand until the mid-19th century when lobstermen started using baited, one-way traps with a color-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Cages are of plastic-coated galvanized steel or wood. A lobster fisherman may tend as many as 2,000 traps!
Once caught, lobsters are graded as soft shell (or shedders), hard-shell, or old-shell, soft shell lobsters have paper-thin shells and a poor meat-to-shell ratio, but the meat is very sweet. Hard-shell lobsters with firm shells, have more but with less sweet meat, so they command a higher price. Meanwhile, old-shell lobsters, which have not shed since the previous season have a coarser flavor. Culls are lobsters which have lost one of their claws.
Spiny lobsters (langouste or rock lobsters) – Although they superficially resemble true lobsters in terms of overall shape and having a hard exoskeleton, they are distinguished from true lobsters by their lack of claws. They are found throughout all warm seas, especially in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Bahamas.
Squat lobsters – These are flattened crustaceans which a long tail curled beneath their bodies. More than 900 species exist throughout the world’s oceans. They are plentiful off Baja, California, Mexico, South America and New Zealand. Flesh from these animals is often commercially sold in restaurants as “langostino” or sometimes dishonestly called “lobster” when incorporated in seafood dishes. As well as being used for human consumption, there is demand for squat lobster meat to use as feed in fish farms and shrimp or prawn farms. This is in part because they contain a pigment that helps to color the meat of farmed salmon and trout.
Crayfish (crawfish, crawdads) – Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters. Some species are found in brooks and streams where there is running fresh water, while others thrive in swamps, ditches, and rice paddies. Generally only the tail portion is eaten, except at crayfish boils, where the entire body is served. Like all crustaceans, crayfish are not kosher because they are aquatic animals that do not have both fins and scales. Crayfish are also commonly sold and used as bait.
In Colonial times, lobster was fed to pigs and goats and only eaten by prisoners, indentured servants or paupers. 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. American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food.
Native Americans ate lobsters after wrapping them in seaweed and baking them over hot rocks. We usually boil or steam lobsters today. The most common way of killing lobsters is by placing them live in boiling water or to split the lobster or sever the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed immediately before boiling by a stab into the brain, in the belief that this will stop suffering. The boiling method is illegal in some places, such as in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy, where offenders face fines up to €495. When a lobster is cooked, its shell’s color changes from blue to orange because the heat from cooking breaks down a protein which suppresses the orange hue of another chemical which is also present in the shell.
Encyclopedia of Life