We’re all familiar with lobsters. Even if you’ve never had one, they’re pretty much ubiquitous by now. People usually only think of them in terms of a luxury dinner and aren’t looking at them as living, breathing creatures.
But you, my dear reader, are obviously different, and you have more questions about lobsters than how much butter you should use and for how long you have to boil them.
So let’s dive into it, and I’ll try to give you answers to your burning questions about lobsters!
Do lobsters have brains? Lobsters do not have your typical human-like brain. Instead, they have a set of ganglia, which is a group of neuron cell bodies, throughout their body that contains only a hundred thousand neurons (dogs have 500 million). Their nervous system is similar to that of an insect.
But even though they lack a neocortex in the brain, lobsters could still have consciousness without a neocortex because, like Temple Grandin, a prominent animal behaviorist, argues, “different species can use different brain structures and systems to handle the same functions.”
When Were They Popularized As A Fancy Meal?
American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait. Until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a poverty
Even servants didn’t want to eat lobster more than twice per week and had that outlined in their employment agreements.
Do Lobsters Feel Pain?
That is an excellent question. Animal rights activists (of course) say that they very much do feel pain, and lobster lobbies and their scientists (of course) say that they do not feel pain.
Scientists still haven’t reached a consensus, and they probably won’t. You see, lobsters are big business for some communities, and it most definitely wouldn’t suit them if more people all of a sudden happened to be aware that lobsters can feel pain.
After all, people oftentimes cook (live) lobsters at home, meaning that they are the ones that actually kill them. That is not what happens when they cook a steak or make any other meat dish. You don’t have to slaughter a cow or a pig at home to eat it.
A classic book on this interesting topic:
David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" was perhaps the first (or, at the very least, the most poignant) mainstream essay to rail against the idea of boiling animals alive before we eat them.
Even if there were a hundred percent consensus among scientists that lobsters do feel pain, it wouldn’t change much for lobsters. People would still boil them alive, stunned, or dead. If governments banned their sale, their price would just skyrocket, and there would be a healthy black market for them.
As recently as 1999, it was commonly stated that babies could not feel pain until they were a year old. Today we know that newborns and likely even fetuses beyond a certain age can experience pain.
Let me remind you that pigs, cows, and other farm animals do feel pain, and that hasn’t stopped us from caging and killing hundreds of millions of them annually.
But one government did outlaw the common practice of boiling lobsters alive. The Swiss government banned their citizens from cooking lobsters before stunning them after animal rights activists and some scientists argued that lobsters’ central nervous systems are complex enough that they can actually feel pain.
And the UK might soon follow suit via the new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill which is currently on its way to becoming law. This bill will not only recognize animal sentience in law for the first time but also halt most live animal exports and implement a ban on hunting trophy imports.
“Crabs have their claws torn off and the live crab is thrown back in the sea. Lobsters and prawns have the front half of the body torn off from the abdomen which is kept for the meat. The nervous system in the head and thorax is still functional an hour later.”Biologist Bob Elwood of Queen’s University in Belfast
Do Lobsters Have Emotions?
Lobsters are actually sensitive and delicate animals, and it has been proven that lobsters feel at least one emotion – anxiety. A study to prove (or disprove) this was conducted on crayfish from the same order as lobsters. And we also eat crayfish after boiling them alive.
It has been proven that anxiety in crayfish appears to be caused and controlled by serotonin, an important hormone that plays an important role in human anxiety.
They were treating anxiety in crayfish with benzodiazepines the same way we do in humans.
“Sources of stress or danger provoke fear, a basic emotion, and generate immediate responses, such as escape, freezing, or aggression. Stress can also lead to anxiety, a more complex state that is considered a secondary emotion because it occurs when the stressor is absent or not clearly identified,”Pascal Fossat, lead author of the study
Do Lobsters Scream (When Boiled Alive)?
That sound you hear when you’re cooking your lobster dinner is not the sound of the lobster screaming. After all, lobsters lack lungs and vocal cords. But what is it then, if not a cry for help and mercy? Well, it’s just the
soul air escaping their body and making hissing sounds when coming up on the surface.
Why Do We Boil Lobsters Alive?
There are a couple of reasons why lobsters are recommended to be boiled alive. Chefs discovered back in the 19th century that lobsters look and taste better when cooked alive. The other reason is the dangerous bacteria that finds a home in the dead lobster’s body.
The bacteria can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and sometimes even death, and it starts appearing after only a few hours from when the lobster died.
Even cooking the lobster meat won’t kill all of the bacteria. So the recommendation is just to keep the animal alive right up until you’re going to prepare it.
Do Lobsters Die Or Live Forever?
It would be great if an animal could live forever. You can imagine scientists lining up to examine the creature piece by piece and trying to figure out how we can make ourselves immortal. But…
Do lobsters live forever? Although there was scientific research hinting at this notion, the lobsters actually do not live forever. You see, lobsters have to molt to grow. And as they grow older, they have to expend more and more energy to do so, making them, in the end, more susceptible to death as they grow older. Eventually, the lobster will die from exhaustion during a molt.
Older lobsters are also known to give up kinda and stop molting altogether, which means that the shell will eventually become damaged, infected by bacteria, or fall apart and die.
The biggest European lobster males can live in the wild for an average of 31 years, and the females for an average of 54 years. It’s not bad, but it’s no immortality.
Contrary to popular belief, lobsters do not mate for life. They go through a complex mating ritual, and a few days before molting, the female lobster will choose a mate and remain in his shelter until the molt. After she takes off, another female can have her turn.
Lobsters can actually breathe air and can survive for a long time out of water. Although they don’t have lungs but gills, they can extract oxygen from both seawater and air. There is a catch, though – the gills have to stay cool and moist.