How many lobsters are there in this picture? One – because the “other one” is the hollow, hard outer shell of a lobster, known as an exoskeleton.
Keepers at Living Coasts, Torquay’s coastal zoo, had to do a double-take recently when they discovered that European common lobster Homer had moulted for the first time in two years.
Aquarist Sam Worthington was particularly pleased, as it was the first time he’d moulted in her time at the charity zoo: “This exoskeleton is almost perfect – right down to the antennae and the eyes. Lobsters moult their protective outer shells in order to grow. It’s hard work – some die of exhaustion in the process. It’s made of chitin, a natural polymer related to glucose, which plays a similar role to keratin in humans – keratin forms our toe and finger nails.”
Homer, who was named after his Latin name, Homarus gammarus, is exceptionally blue and has a lot of attitude. “He’s damn feisty!” says Aquarist Tom Fielding fondly. Homer came to Living Coasts in May 2016.
Lobsters are prized as a delicacy (don’t tell Homer), but maybe they’re just too amazing to eat. You want extraordinary? They don’t age like other creatures, they have no lungs and no vocal cords but they do have a voice – it’s a crackly noise some people compare to violins…
Lobsters have been observed tidying up and even gardening – and Homer is no exception. Tom says: “In the morning we often notice things have been moved around the tank overnight, he’s clearly been busy! We like to put novel objects in there to keep him stimulated. He pushes stuff about with his claws like a bulldozer!”
And there’s more: they taste with their legs, chew with their stomachs and regenerate lost limbs… Three of their five pairs of legs have claws. Their blood is blue and they can repair their own DNA. After all that, it’s surprising to find that their brains are no bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen…
So, the next time you’re in a restaurant and there’s lobster Thermidor on the menu, just think before you order… Living Coasts, Torquay’s coastal zoo, is a registered charity. For more information go to www.livingcoasts.org.uk or ring 01803 202470.
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