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Lobster factsheet History and behaviour

Lobsters, as we think of them, are just one of many types of animal in the crustacean family. Other crustaceans include crayfish, shrimp and crabs. The lobster that is sold and eaten is largely the clawed lobster, member of the Nephropidae family of crustaceans [1]. These invertebrate animals existed on Earth up to 140 million years ago [2].

In place of a vertebra, the lobster has an exoskelton, considered soft because it is flexible unlike a clam’s exoskeleton. To grow, the lobster has to shed their shell. They will typically do this up to 25 times in the first 5-10 years – until adulthood – then once a year for males and once every two years for females. They will eat voraciously until a new exoskeleton can grow and increase their size by taking in water. It is possible that if allowed to live until their expected age they could reach lengths of three foot [3].

There is no current knowledge of how old lobsters can live until – scientists have claimed that they could potentially live up until 100 years old, or potentially indefinitely barring injury or death as their bodies show no sign of ageing other than size [4]. They live solitary in all oceans, on the rocky, sandy or muddy bottoms.

Mothers will carry their young for 9-12 months externally (attaching the eggs to her tail) [5]. Depending on breed, size and age, a mother lobster can produce between 3,000 to 100,000 eggs, but only 2 in every 50,000 (0.004 per cent) are expected to survive to adulthood [6].

Farming, catching and transporting

There is no legal age at which lobsters can legally be caught and killed for human consumption. Catches are deemed legal in the UK when they are 90mmlong at the carapace (varies by country). Estimates put this size and weight at about 6-7 years old [7].

As with many fished animals, we have depleted the natural 'stock' levels found in the world’s oceans. In parts of Asia, countries have taken to farming lobsters industrially because the coasts have been fished dry of lobsters. Lobsters bred in these farms are crammed in their thousands in bodies of water far smaller than their natural habitat [8]. It's no surprise that these solitary animals have been observed to turn to cannibalism when kept in captivity, a behaviour not common in the wild [9].

In the UK, lobsters are caught for consumption, mainly using traps – metal cages which lure them in and trap them inside. Many traps get lost, leaving the lobsters inside to starve, turn to cannibalism or drift ashore. It is unclear whether imports come from caught lobsters or those bred in aquaculture [10], but some are transported live from as far away as Canada [11].

Transportation and sale

Out of the water, they completely lose their ability of fight or flight. To escape predators or danger, lobsters use the caridoid escape reaction (common among crayfish, krill and shrimp as well), where they flex their abdominal muscles to bring their tail up and propel them backwards [12]. And once caught, their claws are kept closed using an elastic band or tape to stop them from injuring each

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