You could call it a lucky catch: A fisher recently captured an extremely rare “calico” lobster in New Hampshire.
Josiah Beringer found the 1.5-pound (0.6 kilogram) animal in one of his traps this week and donated it to the Explore the Ocean World Oceanarium in Hampton, New Hampshire. (See “Odd-Colored Lobsters Decoded.”)
The colorful crustacean is already a main attraction thanks to its remarkable appearance, which includes bright-orange and dark-blue patterns—even on its antennae.
Naturally brownish green, lobsters can come in a variety of colors, including blue, two-toned—with colors split strikingly down the middle—and albino, which may be as rare as 1 in 100 million. (See pictures of albino animals.)
According to Ellen Goethel, a marine biologist and oceanarium director, the chance of finding a calico lobster is between 1 in 30 million and 1 in 50 million, according to some estimates.
However, Robert C. Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, believes calicos may be more common than generally believed.
“I’ve seen quite a few of them,” said Bayer. “I’ve seen more calicos than any other color variant.”
How the Lobster Got Its Spots
Exactly how a calico lobster gets its spotted shell is poorly understood, Bayer said, likely because the oddities are rarely studied and considered “a curiosity more than anything else.” (Also see “How Did Odd Lobster Get Six Claws?“)
Other color variations, such as blue lobsters, have been well researched and are known to be caused by genetic changes, specifically the overproduction of a certain protein, he said in a previous interview.
But Bayer has dissected calico lobsters and thinks something may be going on beyond genetics. “I don’t think it’s genetic. I think we’re looking at something environmental,” he said.
For instance, he recently dissected a calico lobster that had odd white paste under its shell, which appeared to be bacterial when he examined it under a microscope. (See “Lobsters to Be Supersized by Climate Change?“)
“That white material, whatever it is, corresponds to the calico area on the shell,” said Bayer.
Back to the Ocean
Whatever mechanism is behind their multiple colors, calico lobsters are not to be confused with lobsters suffering from shell disease, an increasingly common ailment in which a lobster’s shell develops lesions and a mottled appearance, said Goethel.
Calicos are not thought to be more vulnerable to early death, though little research has been done on the subject, the experts added.
As for the recent calico catch, it will live at the oceanarium until Labor Day, when Goethel and colleagues will return the rare beauty to its ocean home.
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