By Bridget Altman
It’s that time of year when love is in the air. Thousands of lovebirds will flock to their favorite local restaurant and enjoy a decadent surf ‘n turf dinner of lobster and steak (sustainably sourced of course). As the happy couples prepare to break into the lobster’s buttered-up shell, they reminisce about a clip from a classic episode of Friends:
Phoebe: “C’mon you guys. It’s a known fact that lobsters fall in love and mate for life. You know what, you can actually see old lobster couples walkin’ around their tank, ya know, holding claws!”
This little piece of pop culture is one of the most memorable quotes of one of the best TV shows in history, in my opinion at least. However, it is not biologically sound.
Here is the real story…
Instead of mating for life, a dominant male lobster mates with an entire harem of female lobsters. He mates with each female one at a time, in a series of serial flings that last about two weeks each.
The mating ritual of lobsters is fairly complex. In order to mate, the female lobster must first shed her hard shell. This makes her especially vulnerable to predation. Thus the female must move in with the male so he can protect her while she is more exposed. However, lobster males don’t always want to share their man caves with a lady. The female must resort to seduction to coax her way into the male’s lair. The female goes to the entrance of the male’s shelter and wafts urine into his home. The urine contains pheromones that act as a drug to seduce the male and get him to let her into his home. Sometimes, the pair will perform a courtship dance before the female enters the “love den”.
Once allowed into the male’s den, the female disrobes (well, she sheds her exoskeleton shell). The pair will mate for up to two weeks, until the female’s shell hardens. Once her shell is completely re-formed, she moves out of the male’s home and moves on with her life; carrying fertilized eggs. After she moves out, there is a new female lined up and ready to seduce the dominant male.
This type of mating is called “serial monogamy”. So is it a traditional love story like the saga of Ross and Rachel? Not quite. In my opinion, this scandalous tale of love, lust and claws is more worthy of a soap opera than a sitcom!
To learn more:
- Check out this great interview on National Geographic: Unknown Life of Lobsters: Sex, Robots, and Beyond
- Read the The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean
- Read about other forms of monogamy in the animal kingdom
Bridget Altman is a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. She hopes to help the world understand the importance of ocean stewardship. She has a passion for all ocean creatures, specifically apex predators. She ultimately wants to become a PR agent for sharks.
Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.