The Many Colors of a Lobster

The many colors of a lobster

by Adam Kovarsky, aquarium manager

Did you know lobsters pee out of their faces? They have a few ducts under their eyes. So strange. They can regenerate lost limbs and heal what appear to be mortal wounds. They are the largest crustacean on the planet and can reach up to at least 45 pounds. I am just amazed with how unique lobsters are, and as I think about the collection of Narragansett Bay lobsters at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium, the obvious thing that grabs my attention is their rare colorations.

American Lobster
Normal lobsters are easily camouflaged by a mixture of pigments in their shell.

Lobsters shells can have amazing colors. A normal healthy lobster has relatively dark and camouflaged coloration made from a mixture of pigments, including red, blue, orange, yellow, black and even pure white, which is a complete absence of pigmentation. The mixture of pigments allows these prehistoric- looking creatures to hide in the depths of the Narragansett Bay, escaping the notice of most of their predators and their prey. You could see millions of lobsters in a lifetime and all of them might have this coloration. But genetics, DNA coding, and random chance may have another plan for some lobsters.

A rare calico lobster
A calico lobster is a one-in-30-million rarity.

One in one million lobsters could be completely blue (like the banner image above). One in 30 million might be orange, yellow or even calico (yellow, orange and black spots). One in 50 million might be bicolored, with an exact lateral delineated coloration—in other words, with half their body one color and the other half another color. The grand prize for lobster rarity goes to the albino lobsters, which one in 100 million.

Why these rare colorations? At some point in the construction of the DNA that sets their pigmentation, something goes wrong in the DNA coding. The cells in these lobsters’ bodies are never told to produce any of the pigments that would create the safe camouflage coloration in their shell. Instead, some, or many, colors are completely absent, giving us beautiful, unique colorations made up of the remaining pigmentation.

Earlier this fall, the Exploration Center and Aquarium had a calico lobster, a blue lobster, and two orange lobsters at our facility. We released two into the wild and kept the blue and one orange as part of our community education program. Every time I see them, I take the time to marvel about how amazing life on our planet can be and how it is our responsibility to protect it. We will observe these lobsters for a few months and then release them back into Narragansett Bay. Until then I highly recommend stopping by our facility to see the amazing life that call Narragansett Bay home and how Save The Bay is working tirelessly to protect it.

Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and this year, December 26 and 27. This hands-on, marine science center is located at 175 Memorial Blvd in Newport. General admission is $8; $7 with ID for Save The Bay members, seniors, students, and guests of military and first responders; free admission for military and first responders with ID, children under age 3, and Save The Bay Family Members, thanks in part to Corvias Solutions.

*Please note:  Be sure to access the Johnson & Wales University Harborside Campus through the main entrance on Harborside Blvd. Your GPS may suggest taking Ernest Street to JWU’s Shipyard Street entrance, but that route requires a key card for entry.  

From Route I-95 North or South, take Exit 18 (Thurbers Avenue). Head downhill on Thurbers Avenue to US Route 1A (Allens Avenue). Turn right onto Allens Ave. Continue southbound on Allens Ave. into Cranston, where Allens Ave. becomes Narragansett Blvd. Turn left onto Harborside Blvd. at the traffic light by the Shell gas station. Follow Harborside Blvd. through the Johnson & Wales Harborside Campus. At the end of Harborside Blvd., turn right onto Save The Bay Drive. Save The Bay Drive becomes a circular, one-way roadway as you approach the Bay Center. Parking is available in four guest lots after you pass the main building. Enter the building through the main entrance.