Lobsters have long bodies with muscular tails, and live in crevices or burrows on the sea floor. Three of their five pairs of legs have claws, including the first pair, which are usually much larger than the others. Highly prized as seafood, lobsters are economically important, and are often one of the most profitable commodities in coastal areas they populate. Commercially important species include two species of Homarus (which looks more like the stereotypical lobster) from the northern Atlantic Ocean, and scampi (which looks more like a shrimp, or a "mini lobster") – the Northern Hemisphere genus Nephrops and the Southern Hemisphere genus Metanephrops. Although several other groups of crustaceans have the word "lobster" in their names, the unqualified term "lobster" generally refers to the clawed lobsters of the family Nephropidae. Clawed lobsters are not closely related to spiny lobsters or slipper lobsters, which have no claws (chelae), or to squat lobsters. The closest living relatives of clawed lobsters are the reef lobsters and the three families of freshwater crayfish.
Lobster anatomy includes two main body parts: the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The cephalothorax fuses the head and the thorax, both of which are covered by a chitinous carapace. The lobster's head bears antennae, antennules, mandibles, the first and second maxillae. The head also bears the (usually stalked) compound eyes. Because lobsters live in murky environments at the bottom of the ocean, they mostly use their antennae as sensors. The lobster eye has a reflective structure above a convex retina. In contrast, most complex eyes use refractive ray concentrators (lenses) and a concave retina. The lobster's thorax is composed of maxillipeds, appendages that function primarily as mouthparts, and pereiopods, appendages that serve for walking and for gathering food. The abdomen includes pleopods (also known as swimmerets), used for swimming as well as the tail fan, composed of uropods and the telson.
Research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken or lose fertility with age, and that older lobsters may be more fertile than younger lobsters. This longevity may be due to telomerase, an enzyme that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, referred to as telomeres. Telomerase is expressed by most vertebrates during embryonic stages, but is generally absent from adult stages of life. However, unlike most vertebrates, lobsters express telomerase as adults through most tissue, which has been suggested to be related to their longevity. Telomerase is especially present in 'Green Spotted' lobsters - whose markings are thought to be produced by the enzyme interacting with their shell pigmentation Lobster longevity is limited by their size. Moulting requires metabolic energy and the larger the lobster, the more energy is needed; 10 to 15% of lobsters die of exhaustion during moulting, while in older lobsters, moulting ceases and the exoskeleton degrades or collapses entirely leading to death.
Lobsters are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary, and are known to resort to cannibalism in captivity. However, when lobster skin is found in lobster stomachs, this is not necessarily evidence of cannibalism – lobsters eat their shed skin after moulting. While cannibalism was thought to be nonexistent among wild lobster populations, it was observed in 2012 by researchers studying wild lobsters in Maine. These first known instances of lobster cannibalism in the wild are theorized to be attributed to a local population explosion among lobsters caused by the disappearance of many of the Maine lobsters' natural predators.
Lobster recipes include lobster Newberg and lobster Thermidor. Lobster is used in soup, bisque, lobster rolls, and cappon magro. Lobster meat may be dipped in clarified butter, resulting in a heightened flavor. Cooks boil or steam live lobsters. When a lobster is cooked, its shell's color changes from blue to orange because the heat from cooking breaks down a protein called crustacyanin, which suppresses the orange hue of the chemical astaxanthin, which is also found in the shell.
Prior to this time, lobster was considered a poverty food or as a food for indentured servants or lower members of society in Maine, Massachusetts, and the Canadian Maritimes. Some servants specified in employment agreements that they would not eat lobster more than twice per week, however there is limited evidence for this. Lobster was also commonly served in prisons, much to the displeasure of inmates. American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food.
Lobsters are caught using baited one-way traps with a color-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Lobster is fished in water between 2 and 900 metres (1 and 500 fathoms), although some lobsters live at 3,700 metres (2,000 fathoms). Cages are of plastic-coated galvanized steel or wood. A lobster fisher may tend as many as 2,000 traps. Around year 2000, owing to overfishing and high demand, lobster aquaculture expanded. However, as of 2008, no lobster aquaculture operation had achieved commercial success, mainly because of lobsters' tendency towards cannibalism and the slow growth of the species.