Unknown Life of Lobsters: Sex, Robots, and Beyond

Sean Markey
National Geographic News
August 24, 2004

Even Lewis Carroll might have had trouble fathoming the complex, conflict-driven world of lobsters. Trevor Corson, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based journalist and editor, spent two years as a lobsterman in Little Cranberry Island, Maine, before writing the recently published The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean (HarperCollins). National Geographic News caught up with Corson on land.

Let's cut to the chase and talk mating: What does it take for a male lobster to score?

You have to be a boxing champion. Lobsters hate each other and fight over everything all the time. But males in particular duel constantly to establish dominance. They're always fighting over the best shelter.

Usually in a particular neighborhood, one male establishes himself as the local ogre, the dominant alpha male. And once his status is secured, he enforces it. Every night, he goes out and beats up all the other lobsters in the neighborhood, kicks them all out of their houses, just to remind them who's in charge.

Females apparently find this abuse particularly arousing, and they become very interested in the dominant alpha male. [Lobsters] all know where each other lives. It's very interesting—they have a map of the neighborhood.

Females will regularly go and visit the entrance to the alpha male's shelter after he's been beating them up. They follow him home, and they perform a variety of courtship rituals.

The problem is, the alpha male is so belligerent, he's not really interested in romance. He just wants to beat people up all the time. So the females have to cajole him into a romantic mood.

How does a female seduce the male?

Essentially by drugging him into submission. When lobsters fight and when they flirt—in both cases they communicate with each other basically by pissing in each other's faces. They have these little urine-release nozzles right under their eyes, and they squirt urine at each other.

The urine is laced with various kinds of information. In a fight it could be a communication of how aggressive or belligerent or dominant a lobster is.

The females, in this case of mating, go to the dominant male's shelter entrance and squirt their pheromone-laced urine into his shelter. This relaxes [the alpha male] and reduces his aggression. He starts to swoon a little bit. He fans these little flippers under his tale to spread the urine around his apartment and savor its aroma.

The females do this a few times while they're [over] to visit. He gradually becomes used to them. [Females] do a few other little courtship rituals, some little dances and stuff.

Continued on Next Page >>


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