Ever wonder if all those things you read about lobsters living forever are true?
The natural world is full of wonders and lobsters certainly have their fair share of amazing abilities. Lobsters are found all over the world from cold water American lobsters to tropical reef lobsters.
There are many different species and they spend their time on the ocean floor eating urchins, fish, shellfish, and even other crustaceans.
Carry on reading to find out about how long these creatures can actually live and other mind-blowing lobster facts.
Can Lobsters Live Forever?
The short answer is no, lobsters die, but where does the idea that lobsters live forever come from, exactly?
What Is Biological Immortality?
The majority of living organisms experience the process of aging. The deterioration of the regular functions of organisms associated with the aging process is called senescence.
As cells go through senescence, they stop growing, no longer divide, and eventually die. Senescence also applies to the organism as a whole when it can't mount an adequate response to external stimuli.
Lobsters are one of the rare creatures that don't through senescence as other organisms do.
There are also some species that can slow down, reverse, or escape this process altogether, making them biologically immortal.
Does this make such organisms truly immortal? Unfortunately, no since they can still succumb to predation, injury, or disease.
How Do Lobsters Age?
Lobsters do not age or experience senescence in the same way as the majority of living organisms. Although they aren't truly biologically immortal, their long life span is a result of their ability to repair their DNA.
When cells replicate, chromosomes (made from DNA) are copied during the cell division process. Chromosomes have telomeres at their ends acting as protective caps, which get shorter with each cell division, part of the cell aging process. When they get too short the cell can't replicate anymore.
Some organisms, including lobsters, have an endless supply of the enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme's job is to regenerate these protective caps, the telomeres, which means their DNA and cells don't degenerate like that of many other animals.
Humans and other animals also have telomerase, but at levels nowhere near as high as that of lobsters, so are not able to regenerate their telomeres constantly.
Lobsters do still age, but in a different way. They don't stop growing and may reach impressive sizes, however they have to go through a molting process as they grow too large for their shells.
Their shells, or exoskeletons, aren't able to grow bigger, so part of their life cycle involves molting their entire exoskeleton at regular intervals. This takes more energy the bigger they get. Some lobsters die due to exhaustion from this molting process.
Older lobsters have been known to stop molting, at which point their shell can fall apart and get damaged, making life-threatening infections more likely to occur.
Unlike other organisms, lobsters don't seem to have a decrease in their fertility as they age. Older lobsters may actually have better fertility than younger lobsters.
How Long Do Lobsters Live?
Well, with such fascinating biochemistry, just how long can lobsters live? Firstly, there are actually loads of animals that go by the lobster name, such as squat lobsters, slipper lobsters, and spiny lobsters.
When discussing these crustaceans in terms of taxonomy, lobsters are specifically found in the Nephropidae family.
This family also includes cold-water species such as the Homarus Americanus or American lobster, and the Homarus Gammarus or European lobster, which have a commercial value.
Lobsters definitely don't live forever and the lifespan of a lobster may vary between species. Lobsters can live a long time. The average life span of the European lobster species is 54 years for the female lobsters and 31 years for the male lobsters. One particular female lobster lived to the ripe old age of 72 years.
The oldest lobster in the world is an Atlantic lobster thought to be 140 years old!
How Do You Tell The Age Of A Lobster?
Figuring out how old a lobster is, is not an easy task. Scientists have tried a number of methods to work out how old lobsters actually are, but it proves to be tricky.
In other animals, one can look at the growth bands on bones and scales to work out the age, however, as lobsters grow, they molt their entire exoskeleton, and don't retain any of these hard structures that could help with age determination.
The weight and size of the lobster can help with guessing an age, but it isn't particularly accurate.
Scientists have found other ways of working out how long lobsters can live. They have examined the fat residues on the lobster's eyestalks with the assumption that older lobsters have larger fat stores.
How Large Can Lobsters Grow?
Lobsters, like other ten-footed crustaceans (decapods), undergo indeterminate growth. This means they carry growing for their whole life, which is very different to species like us humans as when we reach adulthood our growth stops.
Lobsters may not be able to live forever but older lobsters with impressive sizes have been caught.
The American-clawed lobsters are bigger and heavier than the European lobster. In 1977 a lobster one meter in length was caught in the ocean off Nova Scotia. This American lobster weighed a whopping 44lbs 6oz and holds the world record for the heaviest crustacean. This makes it the largest lobster in the world.
A couple of lobsters were caught at Virginia Capes, weighing 42lbs and 38lbs. These large crustaceans are in Boston at the Museum of Science.
There have been rumors of much larger lobsters being caught. In the 1930s someone claimed to have snared a 47lbs lobster near New Jersey, and a supposed 48lb specimen was entrapped close to Chatham, Massachusetts
Are Lobsters A Protected Species?
The lobster industry is huge in many parts of the world. Humans love to eat lobster and in many places, this tasty crustacean has a certain level of protection in order to prevent overfishing.
A female lobster will lay eggs in the thousands, but only a few will survive to adulthood. Even fewer make it to the huge sizes, so it is important that they are left to breed and not caught at certain points of their life cycle.
In Maine, for example, there is a maximum size and minimum size for lobster. Any creatures outside this range cannot be kept and must be put back into the ocean. Most lobsters caught generally weigh between 2.8lbs to 3.9lbs.
Also, female lobsters that are carrying eggs must be returned to the sea. This helps to ensure that lobster populations continue to thrive.
How long lobsters live will depend on several factors. If they manage to hatch from the eggs and make it to adulthood avoiding predators and disease, then lobsters may live for a very long time indeed.
These animals have rare biochemistry that stops them from aging like other organisms. They never stop growing, and ultimately the energy-intensive molting process will end the life of some older lobsters. Lobster lives can certainly be lengthy, but they are not immortal.
Interested in the lifespans of other marine creatures? Check out our additional articles!