How Do Lobsters Communicate?

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how do lobsters communicate

How do lobsters communicate and is it possible to have a chat with a crustacean? Lobsters have evolved sophisticated and eloquent ways of communicating with each other, but they are very different from our own! Methods of lobster communication vary between species, so there is still lot more that we don’t know about or fully understand yet. Today we take a look at some of the most interesting and unexpected ways that lobsters communicate with each other.

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The female lobster in this clip has an important message for her rival. Let’s look at the other ways lobsters communicate with each other too!

Lobster communication

The secrets of how lobsters communicate are different for different types of lobster. Lobster species are extremely diverse. They include the Maine clawed lobsters that we’re most used to eating, 60+ species of their clawed lobster cousins, and dozens of other surprising-looking lobster types in their extended family tree. Such as the clawless spiny lobster with its backwards-facing antennae, and the squat lobster which holds its tail curled so tightly under its body that from above it looks like it has been chopped in half.

All these different species are slightly different from the rest in terms of their anatomy, habitat, social habits, what they eat, and so on. They don’t all communicate in exactly the same ways either. So even though there is likely to be overlap between some species, we don’t know for sure that communication behavior observed in one species would mean the same thing to all the other species. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting ways some types of lobster are known to communicate!

Are lobsters social?

Let’s start with a quick look at who lobsters have to communicate with. After all, what’s the point of sending a message, if there’s no one to receive it?

Clawed lobsters are largely solitary creatures. The only exception to this is during breeding season, so a lot of what we know about their communication relates to finding a mate, and fighting off love rivals. In some lobster species, like the Atlantic lobster in the video above, females also live in close quarters to hatch their eggs. But in this context they are competing for desirable space, rather than sharing it!

On the other hand, spiny lobsters (also known as crayfish) are highly social. They live together in large groups, which offers protection from predators and makes migration easier because they can take it in turns to follow in each other’s slip stream. Juvenile spiny lobsters kept in isolation grow more slowly than juveniles raised in a group, which suggests social interactions are important for their welfare.

So some lobsters are social and others aren’t. But both types have need to communicate with each other.

How do lobsters communicate with each other?

Lobsters have several ways of communicating with each other, from the surprising to the downright disgusting!

how do lobsters communicate

How do lobsters communicate using sound?

Some lobsters communicate by making sounds. For example spiny lobsters have been observed making rasping and screeching sounds. Depending on their frequency and intensity, it seems these noises can

  • let other lobsters know about the discovery of a food source
  • serve as a warning about predators
  • scare away predators
  • startle predators so the lobster has a chance to escape
  • or even just other sea life know they’re there.

Male European clawed lobsters are also known to produce underwater sounds by vibrating their carapace. Researchers aren’t totally sure what purpose it serves them, but we do know that if there’s a lot of ambient shipping noise, the lobsters will ‘shout’ to make themselves heard over the top of it!

Can lobsters hear?

You’ve probably never thought about lobsters having ears before. But it makes sense that if they can make sounds, they must also be able to detect sounds. And they can – but not with ears at all! In fact they have delicate structures all over their bodies called hairfans, which detect the vibrations made by other lobsters rasping, screeching or vibrating.

How do lobsters communicate using chemicals?

Perhaps the most notorious way that some lobsters communicate doesn’t involve sound at all though. It involves their pee!

‘Like a dog peeing on a lamppost, right?’ Nope! Not even close.

Several species of lobster use pheromones in their pee to communicate. Pheromones are chemicals produced specifically for the purpose of communicating information and soliciting a response from the recipient. Animals have evolved many ways of releasing pheromones, including from scent glands, in their sweat, or in their urine. Lobsters use the latter, and the pheromones they release communicate information about their social status and availability for mating. Put it’s how they pee that’s most startling – lobsters pee out of their eyes! They have ducts just below their eyes for releasing urine, and olfactory apparatus on their antennae for detecting the urine-borne pheromone signals from other lobsters. That’s right – they deploy and receive their pee-mails face-on!

The language of love and lobster mating habits

Let’s see how all this pee messaging works in practice.

  • Firstly it’s important to remember that only the strongest male lobsters will get to mate. Female lobsters choose the strongest mates in order to pass on the best possible chance of survival to their offspring.
  • To establish which males are the strongest they engage in hierarchy establishing behaviors, such as waving their claws, pushing each other, whipping rivals with their antennae and locking claws. These battles are rarely fatal, but they can result in injuries and lost limbs. What’s more, the combatant’s pheromones will change after the altercation, to reflect whether they won or lost.
  • As the breeding season progresses, fights like these get less frequent. Instead, males just squirt urine at each other’s faces, and their pheromone signatures reveal which is the stronger lobster, without the need for fisticuffs.
  • At last, the females will also be able to determine which are the most attractive males, based on how many winning fights are reflected in their pheromone signature.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, the males are still somewhat riled up, and prone to lashing out at other lobsters who get too close. To avoid being attacked, female lobsters ready to mate spray their own urine at the male’s face, as a signal that she is female and receptive to mating with him.

How lobsters communicate – summary

Some lobster species are solitary for most of the year, whilst others live in long term social groups. There’s still a lot we don’t know about how they communicate, but one of the best understood and most fascinating methods is by squirting pheromone-laden urine from beneath their eyes. These chemical messages are used to establish social dominance and secure the best mate, with minimal fighting.

Will you ever be able to look at a lobster in the same way again? If you have your own fun lobster fact to share, please post it in the comments box down below!

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References

Aggio & Derby. Chemical Communication in Lobsters. Chemical Communication in Crustaceans. 2010.

Buscaino et al. Acoustic behaviour of the European spiny lobster. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 2011.

Cenni et al. Effects of habitat complexity on the aggressive behaviour of the American lobster in captivity. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2010.

Gherardi et al. Visual recognition of conspecifics in the American lobster. Animal Behaviour. 2010.

Jezequel et al. Spiny lobster sounds can be detectable over kilometres underwater. Scientific Reports. 2020.

Jezequel et al. Sound detection by the American lobster. Journal of Experimental Biology. 2021.

Jezequel et al. Potential for acoustic masking due to shipping noise in the European lobster. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 2021.

Kropielnicka-Kruk et al. The effect of conspecific interaction on survival, growth and feeding behaviour of early juvenile tropical spiny lobster. Aquaculture. 2019.

Patek et al. Disentangling defense: the function of spiny lobster sounds. Behaviour. 2010.

Shebani. The Role of Chemical Senses in Predation, Risk Assessment, and Social Behavior of Spiny Lobsters. Biology Dissertation. Georgia State University. 2008.

Shebani et al. Spiny lobsters use urine-borne olfactory signaling and physical aggressive behaviors to influence social status of conspecifics. Experimental Biology. 2009.

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