An extremely rare orange lobster has joined resident blue, yellow, and other colorful lobsters living at the University of New England. It looks like it’s been cooked, but that’s its normal coloration, and it will live in a lab along with a rainbow of other rare lobsters. They can live to be 100 years old and three feet long.
The chances of catching an orange lobster are one in 30 million. However, Captain Gregg Turner says he and his crew have seen another one before. They caught the female, one-clawed orange lobster in Casco Bay, Maine, and donated it to the Arthur P. Girard Marine Science Center.
Recently, during the winter, they donated a rare calico lobster named Sprinkles to the center. The odds of finding a calico lobster are also one in 30 million. So far, the orange one is unnamed. Now safely in a lab aquarium, the researchers and students will watch the lobster’s claw grow back. It probably lost the claw in a fight with another lobster or fish.
“We plan to document the regrowth of this lobster’s claw in real time, something we’ve only done once before with Banana, our female yellow lobster,” the lab’s coordinator, Lindsay Forrette, said.
The researchers and students may also study how the lobster’s color could be related to shell disease affecting lobsters in New England. Bacteria in the ocean cause the disease, which leaves the animals defenseless from predators (see video below). The colorful lobsters are valuable for research in part because the bacteria are readily visible on their shells. In the lab, they can artificially create lobster color morphs (see below), but this one is all natural.
Are Colorful Lobsters Becoming More Common?
The orange lobster’s color is due to genetics, diet, and environmental factors scientists don’t fully understand. In recent years, accounts of colorful rare lobsters seem to have become more frequent for unknown reasons. One possibility is there are fewer predators hunting them. In the ocean, they are vulnerable since they can’t camouflage themselves.
An orange lobster may be the catch of a lifetime, but an even rarer lobster, split in color, occurs every one in 50 million. However, the rarest of the rare is the white albino lobster, a one in 100 million chance.
Meanwhile, blue is one in two million, and yellow is considered one in 30 million lobsters, like an orange or calico lobster.
Video by News Center Maine:
Orange Lobster Joins Sprinkles, Banana, and Blueberry
The orange beauty joins a colorful group at the lab. As mentioned, there is a calico lobster, Sprinkles and a blue lobster, Blueberry, donated in 2019. The names might imply they have a different flavor, but no, they wouldn’t taste any different.
Lobsterman Marley Babb donated “Banana,” the yellow lobster, to the University of New England in 2021. He drove Banana from Tenant’s Harbor in St. George, Maine, to the Marine Science Center.
A split-colored lobster also arrived at the Marine Science Center lab in 2021, donated by Eric Payne from Inland Seafood Corporation. They named the lobster Banana Split.
Another rare lobster with a lavender and blue color called “Cotton Candy” turned up at a Maine seafood company last year (see video below).
Video by News Center Maine:
Every Lobster is a Rainbow of Colors
According to the Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Initiative, the rainbow of lobster colors is usually hidden and stacked in layers in the shell. There are blue and yellow or orange layers of pigment, which is changed in color by special shell proteins. Together, the layers appear muddy brown or green.
These colorful pigments break down when cooked, revealing the remaining red in the skin under their shell. That color is due to the pigment astaxanthin, an antioxidant consumed in their diet, which helps them cope with stress. Salmon are also red due to astaxanthin.
So, when you see a lobster’s muddy brown or green color, it’s actually composed of many colorful layers together.
“When we look at lobsters and any crustacean, you actually look through a layer of yellow pigment, through a layer of blue pigment, down to the skin which is red,” said New England Aquarium director Michael Tlusty.
Lobsters that don’t consume astaxanthin appear blue, while a lobster that lacks proteins that make blue pigment may appear orange. In the lab, scientists can change the lobster’s diet to artificially change their color, helping them study shell disease. But the wild-caught specimens exhibiting rare colors may hold vital clues to help protect the crustaceans in the ocean.
Video by BytesizeScience:
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