Common Lobster

  • Scientific name: Homarus gammarus
  • Also know as: European Lobster
  • Size: Up to 2ft in length
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Found throughout European waters.

The common lobster is a species of clawed lobster which is found all around the British Isles, as well as throughout the rest of Europe. It is an extremely commercially valuable species which plays an important role in many fisheries around the UK.

Description

A common lobster has a segmented body, eight legs, long antenna and prominent eyes. The two claws of the lobster are large and powerful, capable of causing significant damage to humans. The claws are not symmetrical but differ slightly as one is a crushing claw to hold prey and the other a cutting claw. The common lobster is usually blueish in colour with a paler underside, although they can also be a darker colour, sometimes verging on black and can be speckled with lighter colours.

Lobster

Lobsters which avoid being caught can grow to large sizes.

The common lobster can grow to over 2ft (60cm) in length and weigh more than fifteen pounds. However, most lobsters are smaller than this, typically between 20-40cm. Large lobster are certainly present in UK waters.

Distribution and Habitat

The common lobster is found all around the coastline of Britain and Ireland. It is also found throughout the rest of Europe with its range extending from the waters at the edge of the Arctic Circle all of the way to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Common lobsters can occasionally be found in the inter-tidal zone, but generally they prefer deeper water of 10 to 50 metres. They are mostly found on rocky seabeds which provide holes and crevices for the lobster to hide in.

Behaviour and Feeding

Lobster larva

Lobster larva during the free swimming stage of its life.

Common lobster generally hide away in cracks and crevices in rocks during the day, as lobsters, especially smaller ones are themselves prey for large fish such as cod, bass and rays. They emerge to feed at night when they scour the seabed and will eat pretty much anything they can find such as marine worms, starfish, other crustaceans and dead or rotting fish. Lobsters are believed to become fertile at around five years old, with breeding taking place at any time of the year. The female will carry the fertilised eggs on her underside for up to a year before they hatch. The larvae are free swimming for the first stage of their life before they eventually take the same form as the adults and head to the seabed where they spend the rest of their lives. Although the females can carry around 100,000 eggs only a tiny proportion of these will reach the adult stage, often less than one per cent.

There is a very closely related species known as American lobster (Homarus americanus) found along the eastern coast of North America. This species very similar to the European lobster and there are only minor differences (such as a different coloured underside and different number of spines on the head). The two species can interbreed in captivity but this does not happen in the wild as the species are not in locations which overlap.

Commercial Value

Cooked lobster

A lobster with its familiar red colouration after being cooked.

Lobster are a highly prized commercial catch and are considered a luxury food in many countries. Lobster are generally caught using pots or traps which are baited and lowered into the sea and collected by fishermen the following day. While fresh lobster commands the highest price it can also be bought frozen or tinned. The familiar red colour only occurs after the lobster has been cooked. Due to the commercial pressure on the common lobster very few grow to their maximum size, being caught well before they are fully grown. Despite heavy fishing pressure on this species the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) currently classes the common lobster as a species of Least Concern, with a stable population trend.

Lobster traps

Lobster traps and pots are still widely used to catch this species.

There are a number of voluntarily agreed measures put in place by many fisheries in an attempt to maintain lobster numbers. These include minimum size limits, rules to always return berried (egg carrying) lobsters and a system where notches are cut into the tail of female lobsters at peak breeding age and agreeing not to keep these lobsters until the notches have grown out. The IUCN status of this species suggests that these measures are effective at maintaining lobster numbers.

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