There are so many types of lobsters, it’s amazing anyone is able to keep track! Well, today we are going to give it a go! Whether your end goal is to expand your mind, dine in style or delight in the company of a lobster pet, please enjoy meeting the diverse types of lobster we feature in this article.
Perhaps if you are an aquarist (or chef) you might be able to rattle off several lobster species. But the truth is, most of us never get lucky enough to see a lobster alive in their wild habitat. Let alone learn much beyond the obvious about these elusive and often shy aquatic species. And for the foodies among us, by the time these popular crustaceans end up on our dinner plate, we are probably too hungry to ask questions!
What Makes a Lobster a Lobster?
So what sets lobsters apart from all the similar-appearing aquatic life all around them?
Lobsters are arthropods, crustaceans and decapods
All lobsters are decapods, which means they have five sets of legs. All lobsters are arthropods, which means they are invertebrates. And all lobsters are crustaceans, which means they wear a hard outer exoskeleton. One that surrounds and protects their body.
Speaking of exoskeletons, all lobsters also go through periodic molts. Moltsa re times when they outgrow their current exoskeleton and have to shed it and grow a new one. If you have ever seen the term “softshell lobster,” this means a lobster who just molted. Lobsters who have finished molting are called hardshell lobster.
Lobsters have a unique physiognomy
Depending on who you ask, lobsters are either downright weird or simply fascinating. For example, lobsters use tiny hairs to touch their food, their feet to smell it, their legs to taste it and their stomachs to chew it.
A lobster’s kidneys are in their head and their brain is in their throat. They pee from their eyes. And if they lose a leg, they are lucky enough to be able to grow it back!
True lobsters are cannibals
Oh, and while lobsters are technically omnivores, true lobsters are confirmed cannibals. Not great news if you happen to be another true lobster.
Lobsters are evolutionarily significant
To top it off, once upon a time, the lobster’s ancient relative was literally the largest animal on the planet. If that isn’t enough to whet your (ahem) appetite, then the remainder of this article featuring different types of lobster certainly will be!
Types of Lobster
In the greater world of crustaceans, there exists a surprising amount of confusion and difference of opinion about how many lobsters exist and where they should be classified, taxonomically speaking.
Clawed and spiny lobsters
But for our general purposes here, simply know there are two main lobster body type divisions: clawed (or true) lobsters and spiny (or rock) lobsters.
Marine and freshwater lobsters
Among lobster species, there are two main habitat divisions. Saltwater (marine) lobsters and freshwater lobsters. From here, a number of additional divisions unfold. For example, some marine lobsters live in warm shallow marine habitats while others prefer cold deep saltwater homes.
Lobsters and not-lobsters
And some lobsters are actually not even lobsters at all, but more akin to crayfish or crabs. These lobsters often get (ahem) lumped in with true lobsters and spiny lobsters. But they have distinguishing names like furry lobster, slipper lobster or squat lobster.
Meet the True (Clawed) Lobsters
Typically, true lobsters are what we think of first when we think of types of lobster. Yet as you will see, the greater lobster family extends quite a bit beyond this group. True (Clawed) Lobsters, aka Homaridae or alternately Nephropsidae, have chelae, pincers (or claws). These sit at the ends of the first three sets of swimmerae, or swimming legs.
True lobsters have big claws
You can always tell you are looking at a true lobster species when the lobster in question has extra-large claws at the ends of their primary swimmerets. If the two primary claws are uneven in size, consider that extra confirmation. To date, there are about 60 documented species of true clawed lobsters.
Meet the Spiny (Rock) Lobsters
Spiny lobsters (Palinuridae) are sometimes also called crawfish, sea crayfish, langouste (languste), furry lobsters or rock lobsters. Spiny lobsters are often confused with true lobsters or freshwater crawfish because they look really similar! But in each case, the genetic relationship is superficial at best.
While spiny lobsters do have small functional claws, a closer look will detect how different these claws are from the large, meaty (and tasty) appendages of true lobsters. For those who are gustatorily inclined, the spiny lobster’s only real meat is in the abdomen. Oddly, this dish is often advertised as “lobster tail.”
Spiny lobsters take their common name from the forward-facing spines on their exoskeleton that help repel potential predators. They are scavenging omnivores who live and forage almost exclusively along the ocean floor. At least 60 spiny lobster species have been identified to date.
Meet the Slipper Lobsters
Slipper lobsters (Scyllaridae) are also called Spanish lobsters, squat lobsters and shovel lobsters. Slipper lobsters are a warm freshwater tropical lobster species. While slipper lobsters are decapods like true lobsters, that is about where the genetic relationship ends. And in fact, they don’t really look that much alike either.
Squat lobsters are generally quite small with elongated flat bodies. Their body shape and configuration hint at their true closest relatives – hermit crabs, true crabs and porcelain crabs. Researchers have identified around 90 related lobsters in this category.
Meet the Deep Sea Lobsters
Deep-sea lobsters (Polychelidae) are thought to be more than 250 million years old. Marine archeologists have found deep-sea lobster fossils dating back to the Triassic period!
All 38 or so members of the Polychelidae family are benthic, or bottom dwelling. And all 38 species are blind. These lobsters also have small functional claws on all of their swimmerets. However, a deep sea lobster’s claws are not like the mighty pincers of the true lobsters. Marine archeologists now believe deep-sea lobsters are actually an evolutionary bridge species that showcases how shrimp and lobster species diverged.
True (Clawed) Lobster Species
Cold water lobster is considered the only “true” lobster. These lobsters have prominent front claws on their first set of swimmerets. Sometimes these claws are also unevenly sized. True lobsters dwell in cold water marine environments exclusively. They also tend to be larger than their warm water cousins.
The American lobster, European lobster, Cape lobster and French Blue lobster are the best known true lobster species. Each is considered to be commercially viable as a food source for humans. Let’s meet these four popular species of true lobsters now.
American Lobster (Homarus americanus)
The American lobster, also called the New England lobster, Maine lobster and Canadian lobster, is perhaps the best known of all the types of lobster…at least if your primary interest in lobster is gustatory. To that point, Maine lobster are widely considered to be the tastiest lobster in the world.
In the wild, these lobsters typically have reddish brown exoskeletons, although the occasional rare genetic mutation can cause them to appear blue, green or even white. When cooked, their exoskeletons turn fire engine red.
Norway Lobster (Nephrops norvegicus)
The Norway lobster is also called the langoustine (not to be confused with langostino) or lobsterette. Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn and scampi are other nicknames for this delicious crustacean. The Norway lobster is closely related to New Zealand deep sea lobster.
French Blue Lobster (Homarus gammarus)
The French Blue lobster, also called the European lobster, Brittany lobster or Breton lobster, is easily recognizable by their deep black and blue shell coloration. These lobsters are close relatives of the American lobster. French Blue lobsters like to live in cold shallow water and can range as far as Scotland and Ireland.
Cape Lobster (Homarinus capensis)
The small Cape lobster, also called the Cape Pygmy lobster, calls the waters of South Africa home. These lobsters are quite small – topping out at around 4 inches from tip to tail – and notoriously shy. While Cape lobsters look rather similar to the much larger American lobster, many scientists now believe they are only distantly related. For this reason, they have now been assigned their own genus.
Spiny Lobster Species
Warm water lobster is sometimes called “false” lobster because these animals do not grow the large meaty claws of their cold water cousins. But in lieu of imposing claws, they often have spines, spikes, thorns or horns to aid in self-defense and hunting.
Warm water lobster are also typically smaller and thinner than cold water lobsters. The best known species of spiny lobsters include the reef lobster and the Caribbean lobster. Let’s meet these spiny lobster species now.
Reef Lobster (Enoplometopus)
Reef lobster can have markings ranging from white to lavender to red or orange in patterns like stripes, spots and rings. They are lovely, delicate lobsters that are popular with aquarists. While all Reef lobster species are technically considered clawless, they actually do have one small set of primary claws.
Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)
The Caribbean spiny lobster is the most commercially significant spiny lobster species. Not surprisingly given their name, the Caribbean lobster inhabits the warm waters of the Caribbean as well as the waters of the coastal Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Rather than menacing claws, Caribbean spiny lobsters use their long antennae to deflect predation. They also have smaller attennules that help them detect movement in the water. These lobsters are alternately named the Rock lobster, Florida lobster and Langosta Espinosa.
Slipper Lobster Species
Slipper lobsters and furry lobsters are closely related. Some species are commercially important for human consumption while others are popular in the pet trade. These two slipper lobster species are representative of the extremes you will find in the slipper lobster category. Also meet the most famous furry lobster species!
Humpbacked Slipper Lobster (Scyllarides haaniiI)
These giant slipper lobsters are also called the Aesop slipper lobster and the Ridgebacked slipper lobster. They can easily grow to 20 inches in length, making them the largest slipper lobster species. They prefer the deeper waters of the continental shelf in the western Indian Ocean, Red Sea, southern Asia, Australia and even Hawaii. While meaty when caught, they are not targeted as a primary source of human food.
Pygmy Locust Lobster (Scyllarus pygmaeus)
This tiny or pygmy slipper lobster is considered huge if it is longer than two inches. These slipper lobsters are found in the Mediterranean. They have their tiny size to thank for the lack of human interest in eating them.
Musical Furry Lobster (Palibythus magnificus)
The French Polynesian musical furry lobster is a relatively recent scientific discovery. While the musical furry lobster isn’t the only slipper/furry lobster species to make a distinctive chirping or screeching noise, certainly this species is the most famous.
Musical furry lobsters make their trademark sound by rubbing the base of their primary antennae against nearby ridges on their exoskeleton. Researchers believe the sound is primarily used to frighten away potential predators.
Deep Sea Lobster Species
The best known of the deep sea lobster species is also the newest addition to the species roster. These blind lobsters were only discovered during a 2011 Marine Life Census and were named in honor of the Census co-founder, Jesse Ausubel. The other well known deep sea lobster species is called the New Zealand lobster. Let’s meet these two famous deep sea lobster species now.
Ausubel’s Lobster (Diochelus ausubeli)
Also called the blind lobster or the mighty claw lobster, this newly discovered and very rare lobster lives in the deep warm waters of the Philippine Sea. The animal’s uniquely long, toothy claw helps it catch prey, an unusual adaptation which may also be the reason these lobsters have evolved to be sightless.
New Zealand Lobster (Jasus edwardsii)
The New Zealand lobster is a deep sea lobster cousin to the Norway lobster. These lobsters are also called langoustine. They are about the size of a large shrimp (prawn) and quite delicious! This is another place where you can see how much crossover can exist between the different categories of lobster species – here we have a deep sea species with characteristics of spiny (rock) lobsters and deep sea lobsters.
Which Types of Lobster Are Your Favorites?
And there you have it – a window into the wonderful and watery world of types of lobster. Of all shapes and sizes. With nearly 250 known types of lobster in the world to choose from, and more being discovered every year, it sure can be hard to choose a favorite. Yet learning about all the different types of lobster is so worthwhile as a way to marvel at our planet’s diversity!
Are you a gourmand with a keen palate? Tell us which lobster species is the tastiest in your opinion! Are you an aquarist with the skill to provide a pet lobster with their exacting living requirements? Drop a comment and let us know which species you keep!
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- Crew, B. “The mystery of Ausubel’s mighty claw lobster,” Australian Geographic, 2011.
- Parke et al. “Lobsters, rock lobsters and crayfish,” Western Australian Museum, 2017.
- Butler. “Collecting and processing lobsters,” Journal of Crustacean Biology, 2017.
- Van Santen. “Musical Furry Lobster Feeling Chirpy,” ABC Science, 2005.