The common lobster (Homarus gammarus) is the UK’s native lobster and found across the North-East Atlantic of Europe and into the Mediterranean. Naturally the Lobster is dark blue/brown in colour. This natural colouration is due to layering of different coloured pigments in the skin and how the overall colour is then perceived. Red, Blue and even yellow pigments combine to form the overall perception of colour. However, occasionally lobsters are caught that are distinctively bright blue, orange or even more rarely White. These are various colour morphs that occur naturally in nature and are mostly caused by the genetics of the lobster.
In the wild lobsters have a very varied diet, from this diet they consume astaxanthin a powerful anti-oxidant and naturally red in appearance. They absorb this astaxanthin into their skin and then some of this is transported into the shell by other proteins creating crustacyanin which appears blue. It’s this combination of red and blue wavelengths contribute to the natural dark blue/brown colour of lobsters. This is also the reason why lobster change colour when cooked because crustacyanin converts back to astaxanthin which is more stable under heat.
Peter Williams, Senior Aquarist at Exploris Aquarium & Seal Sanctuary in Portaferry commented on our current colour morphs, saying, “Our blue lobster is bright blue because his genetic code is expressing more of the proteins that convert the red pigments into the blue pigment giving that shift of colour to the intense blue appearance. Interestingly, you can force an “normal” lobster to go bright blue by changing its diet by removing the astaxanthin. This means all the red pigment would eventually be converted into the shell but when we introduce the astaxanthin back the lobster reverts back to a “normal” colour. (if you were to cook a bright blue lobster the lobster would still turn red)”.
Continuing on, he commented that, “The orange lobster, rarer still, has a lack of these proteins in the shell to convert the red pigments into blue ones so we see the astaxanthin in its natural state.
Our white lobster is effectively an Albino, lacking any ability to produce any pigmentation. The white that we see is the natural colour of the shell. Most crustaceans produce a shell made from calcium carbonate (limestone) which is white in appearance (Think of the White Cliffs of Dover.)”.
These various colour morphs are an interesting addition to any public Aquarium and are on display here at Exporis:-
- A Blue lobster is about a one in two-five million occurrence
- Rarer still is our orange lobster, about one in 20-30 million occurrence
- The rarest is the White/Albino lobster, one in 100 million occurrences
There are other surprising colour variations, Calico and "half and half" lobsters have also been found. "Half and half" lobsters as usually half a normal colour and the other half demonstrating one of the other colour variants. This is partly to genetics as discussed but also because they are their own twin, with twins conjoining during embryonic development with one twin expressing the genetic mutation.
What couldn't be said at this time is that if the increasing appearance of these unusual lobsters are an indicator of the state of our oceans, in other words, climate and environmental change are causing a greater amount of mutation or that the development of social media and picture sharing means that these lobsters are getting more attention.
Often our fish fraternity around our coastline will contact us with interesting species and we are grateful for this as it enables us to inform and showcase multiple species that they would not normally have an opportunity to see. This also provides a platform for Exploris talk about the importance of conservation, so why not come and visit us and learn all about our native species and tropical tanks.
Note that we are currently closed for essential maintenance from Monday 11 December and will re-open at 10am on Wednesday 27 December, (also closed on New Years Day). We apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause but we are looking forward to welcoming you to Exploris on our next visit.
Our ongoing rehabilitation programme with seals continues and should you have any concerns over the holiday period about a seal pup please contact us on 028 4272 8062 and select Option 2, and you will be transferred to our Seal Team for support/advice.