American lobsters are a cultural icon and one of the most important fisheries in New England. We use unique, experimental approaches to investigate the biology, behavior and physiology of larval and juvenile lobsters.

 

Project Objectives

  • Produce year-round supply of lobster embryos, larvae and juveniles for collaborative research efforts
  • Provide a unique and educational experience for staff of interns and volunteers
  • Conduct research on lobster biology, behavior, physiology, health and disease


A newly hatched lobster larva

Photo by N. Bethoney

A fourth stage postlarva lobster,

approximately three weeks old

Photo by A. Metzler

A Dietary typical colored, white and

blue lobsters

Photo by A. Metzler

Lobster with healthy shell

Photo by A. Metzler

Lobster with shell disease

Photo by A. Dove

 

Lobster Rearing

The New England Aquarium’s Lobster Facility provides a year-round supply of healthy lobster embryos, larvae and juveniles to various institutions including universities, educational exhibits and marine research laboratories. Our research begins by hatching and then raising lobsters in our onsite facility, which can house thousands of larvae and juveniles at any one time.

The Lobster Facility hires a number of volunteers and high school and college interns from diverse backgrounds to care for the animals. This staff is invaluable to the facility’s operation, and in return they gain a unique experience in animal care and assisting in ongoing research. Interns may also have the opportunity to conduct their own lobster research experiments, some of which are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

For more information on volunteer and intern opportunities, please see the Aquarium volunteer and internship pages.

 

Diet and Nutrition

Lobsters truly demonstrate that “you are what you eat.” By changing the diet of lobsters, we can vary features as divergent as the color of their shell and how susceptible they are to bacterial diseases.

Color: The color of American lobsters is determined by a single carotenoid pigment, astaxanthin. This pigment is normally red, but in the lobster shell it binds to different proteins and turns either blue or yellow. If a lobster does not eat this pigment, then it becomes white.

We grow white lobsters by eliminating this pigment from their diet. When dietary white lobsters are fed a diet containing pigment, they will turn either blue or red depending on how quickly the pigment is deposited into the shell. If it is deposited quickly, the lobster becomes blue; if it is deposited slowly, the lobster turns red. With this model of using live lobsters to understand shell growth, experiments can be conducted to assess how changes in environmental conditions can influence shell growth.

Disease: In the wild, lobsters eat a lot of fish because fishermen use herring and menhaden to bait their lobster traps. We have observed in the laboratory that lobsters that eat a diet of 100% herring are more likely to get shell disease (see next section) than lobsters that eat herring mixed with other food stuffs. Smaller lobsters are more sensitive to increased fish content in the diet, and this gives us the ability to better understand how nutrition influences disease.

 

Shell Disease

Shell disease is caused by bacteria that settle on a lobster’s shell. The bacteria eat away the shell, resulting in thin areas called lesions. Although the disease is not usually lethal, the unattractive appearance of the animal makes it unsuitable to market and thus has an impact on the lobster fishery. Shell disease prevalence is highest in the southern part of New England (Long Island Sound and Rhode Island), whereas in Maine, shell disease is little seen. Rhode Island SeaGrant funded our current study to determine the effect of temperature on shell disease occurrence in juvenile lobsters. Lobsters are held at different temperatures and are analyzed routinely for shell disease. We are also collaborating with other researchers to identify the specific bacterium that causes this disease. Further research into the epidemiology of this disease can help the lobster fishery understand occurrences in the wild lobster population.