Lobsters are the ocean’s spiders – ten-legged crustaceans skittering across the seafloor, crouching in crevices and under rocks. Found in all the oceans, lobsters range from the shoreline to beyond the brink of the continental shelf.
Typically 10-20 inches long, lobsters can live over 50 years, growing to 3 feet and over 40 pounds. They grow by molting – secreting enzymes that soften their shells and joints, struggling out of the old hard shell in a soft new one and absorbing water to grow by 20% – a miracle of nature in 15 minutes.
Lobsters feed on clams, mussels, crabs, starfish and small fish. They are formidable predators, with claws on their first three pairs of legs. The large front claws are powerful – a blunt and heavy crushing claw paired with a sharper, thinner claw for cutting. Lobsters have no teeth and chew food with three grinding molars in their stomachs.
To navigate the murky ocean bottom, lobsters rely on compound eyes with hundreds of lenses constantly in motion. They sense chemical “smells” with a pair of antennae and “taste” food with rows of fine sensory hairs that line their legs.
Today’s expensive meal, lobster was yesterday’s original trash food. Native Americans used lobsters as bait and fertilizer. The colonists found piles of them washed ashore and came to see lobster as a critical source of protein during hard times, but not as desirable food. Lobster eventually became known as the food of the poor, servants, prisoners and slaves.
The lobstering industry began in the late 18th Century with the advent of the lobster smack – a boat with a built-in live well to keep the catch fresh. In 1842, the first cannery was built in Eastport Maine and the industry spread quickly along the coast. Canned lobster was cheaper than baked beans.
Lobster’s culinary stock rose dramatically over time. With the growth of train travel, fresh lobster was introduced to Boston, New York and other centers of taste and fashion. The lowly lobster began to appear in the dining rooms and restaurants of discriminating diners. By the beginning of World War II, it was considered a delicacy.
Lobster trivia factoids:
The world record lobster caught off Nova Scotia weighed 44 pounds, was 3.5 feet long and at least 100 years old.
Like spiders and snails, lobsters have blue blood.
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