How Do Lobsters Communicate? (Yes, They Pee From Their Faces)

How Do Lobsters Communicate

Whether you have encountered them as a delicious dish on your dinner table, in an aquarium, or during a seaside vacation, lobsters are sure to have fascinated you by their very strangeness.

Crustaceans like lobsters, with their hard shell, their claws, and their antennas simply look so intensely different from us human beings and the animals we usually surround ourselves with.

But humans always tend to look for similarities and shared experiences, and since communication is at the center of human life, you might have asked yourself before; how do they communicate?

How do lobsters communicate? Since lobsters have no vocal cords, they are not able to produce any sound verbally so talking or screaming is out of the question. Instead, to put it very simply, they squirt pee at each other’s faces to communicate. 

This can be done very easily because lobsters urinate from their faces. A lobster’s bladder is located just under their brain. So-called “rosette glands” produce pheromones, which are basically chemicals that work like hormones outside of the body and can be smelled by other lobsters.

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These pheromones are then injected into the stream of urine. The urine with the pheromones is ultimately released through openings just at the base of a lobster’s antennas. Fan-like appendages in the face of a lobster help direct the stream of urine directly towards the other lobster that is standing opposite of them. 

Whenever lobsters pee they thus also release pheromones at the same time which differ with regards to what the lobster wants to communicate. Sometimes they just want to express that they recognize the lobster they encounter, more often, though, the message is about either aggression or attraction.

This method of communicating via pheromones in pee can be compared to the way dogs mark their territory and leave other messages via their urine – if you ever went out with a dog, you will have seen it constantly sniffing out these markings of other dogs, a canine equivalent of checking Facebook.

Unlike dogs, though, lobsters usually do not get along at all. Especially males often fight for dominance and the right to have the first choice of a mate. It has been shown that the pee of a male lobster that has just won a fight has a smell that is particularly attractive to female lobsters – since lobsters are solitary animals, most often the fights between competing males are not witnessed. A changed pheromone profile, then, is the lobster’s way of bragging and telling all the world that he has won a fight. 

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When a female lobster, attracted by the sweet smell of success, enters the burrow of a male lobster, the first thing to do is, of course – to pee in his face. In this case, the pheromones have the effect of lowering the male lobster’s aggression and allowing his mate to enter the burrow. Once she has entered and cozied up with her mate, the female lobster will emit pheromones that make it clear that the lobster in this burrow has been taken as a mate. 

Do Lobsters Never Produce Any Sound At All? 

This is not quite true. There is a species of European lobster that produces a sound by rubbing its antennas together. This squeaky sound is even so loud that it can be heard two miles away underwater. Scientists are still unsure what the exact purpose of this noise is, but they assume it is mostly to ward of predators. 

It is true, though, that there are no species of lobsters that have vocal cords. Talking or singing crustaceans will remain in the realm of animated movies. 

Do Lobsters Scream When Being Boiled Alive? 

No, since due to their lack of vocal cords they cannot produce sounds in the way that mammals or birds do. The high-pitched sound that can be heard when boiling a lobster is not a scream. Hence, a lobster that is boiled when already dead will emit the exact same sound.

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The sound you hear results from the air that is driven out of small holes of the body of the overheating lobster. Most of the air comes from the stomach and is released through the mouth. This is roughly the same way in which flutes or whistles produce sounds. 

How do lobsters breathe?

Lobsters have adapted to breathe underwater by using gills that are hidden under the carapace, close to the head. The gills work best in seawater but lobsters can stay alive for weeks if they are chilled and moist. If they’re in a smaller body of water with less liquid, they will quickly use up the oxygen and suffocate. Lobstermen tell tales of longer survival though, even of overwintering in sheds.

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.