What is a Lobster?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A lobster is a crustacean in the family Nephropidae. Because several other taxonomic families are referred to as “lobsters,” some people distinguish the Nephropidae as the clawed lobster family, emphasizing the distinctive and familiar physical feature associated with the creatures in this family. Lobsters can be found all over the world's oceans, and they are a valued commercial harvest in many areas of the world.

Lobster was considered a poor man's food until well into the 19th century.
Lobster was considered a poor man's food until well into the 19th century.

While lobster is regarded as a delicacy today, this wasn't always the case. Well through the 19th century, lobster was a poor man's food, and it was often used as bait for more appealing seafood species. While it might seem ludicrous to lobster fans today, people in regions like Maine would complain about being forced to eat lobster for weeks on end, with no culinary variation.

The lobster is a invertebrate, with a stiff exoskeleton which can range in color from brown to greenish. The animals have long antennae and eyes on protruding stalks, along with five sets of legs. The forelegs have evolved into claws which are used to grasp and manipulate food items. Some lobsters may develop claws of unequal sizes for specific tasks, and in the event that the larger claw is lost, the smaller claw can grow to accommodate the situation.

In its first five years of life, a young lobster sheds its shell numerous times, in a process called molting. As the rate of growth slows, molting slows down as well, until the lobster molts around once a year. Left unmolested, a lobster can live to be over 100 years old, and it can get quite large, feeding on various small marine animals. Lobsters prefer the bottom of the ocean, which means that most live on the continental shelf, because conditions on the abyssal plain are too severe for lobsters.

Lobster reproduction is rather interesting. Many lobster species reproduce while the female is in molt, with the male depositing a packet of sperm which the female can store for up to a year, until she feels ready to use it. Once the female is ready to lay eggs, she forces the eggs through the sperm to fertilize them, and then attaches them to her tail, carrying them around until they are almost ready to hatch. At hatching time, the eggs are released and allowed to drift, with the baby lobsters living as drifting organisms until they are more fully developed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@ Amphibious 54- I like to steam my lobster in White wine, butter, Italian parsley, and shallots. I do kill the lobster first then drop it into a stockpot that has a bottle of white wine boiling with the other ingredients. I leave the lid on for about 8-10 minutes, steaming until the entire lobster is pink. I also make sure that I do not let the juices form the lobster drain after killing it. I want those juices to be in my wine pot to further flavor the lobster. Best lobster recipe ever!


@ Amphibious54- There is not really a humane way to kill anything. If you want to minimize suffering, you should kill it as quickly as possible. Drop the lobster head first into boiling water, or pierce the underside of its body with a sharp knife.

I prefer to pierce the lobster simply because I have been told that lobsters that die quickly are tenderer. They are not contracting their muscles while they are being slowly boiled to death (sorry to sound so harsh). I have also heard that if you put a lobster in the freezer for a little while, they will feel less pain, but hypothermia always seemed painful to me.


I love the taste of lobster, but I have always been squeamish of cooking live lobsters. I have never cooked live lobster, but I have heard you can almost hear them scream, is this true? Does anyone know a human way to dispatch of a lobster, and an equally simple way to cook one?

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