Cartoon lobsters might be bright red, but real live lobsters are generally a mottled reddish-greenish-brown. Aren’t they?
Toby the blue lobster
In 2012, the crew of the commercial fishing vessel The Pot Luck hauled in a vibrant blue lobster off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. Toby, as the lobster was named, made quite the splash with the regional media before finding a home at the now defunct National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. Today, anyone who would like to see him can visit Toby at the Atlantic Shelf Gallery at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Toby’s unusual bright blue coloring kept him off the dinner plate and landed him his cushy place in the National Aquarium. Being blue makes Toby special. But what makes Toby blue?
National Geographic explains that the reason Toby is blue is a genetic mutation that occurs in just one out of every two million lobsters. This particular genetic mutation causes the lobster to produce too much of a certain protein. When the protein combines with the lobster’s normal pigmentation, it turns the lobster’s shell bright blue.
Blue isn’t the only unusual color lobster are found in. Nor is it the rarest. According to the Lobster Institute, one in ten million lobsters are naturally bright red, a result of too little of the same protein that turns other lobsters blue. One in 30 million lobsters is yellow. One in 30 million lobsters is calico with a mottled orange and black shell. But the rarest lobster of all is the albino or crystal lobster. Scientists estimate that only one in 100 million lobsters is an albino lobster.
The different colored shells are all the result of various genetic mutations. But the difference is only shell deep. Whether weirdly colored or more normally hued, lobsters typically have about the same life span, growth rate and general health.
Breeding a blue male lobster with a blue female lobster results in blue baby lobsters. Scientists at the Lobster Institute did just that two decades ago, then released the lobsters to see if their unusual coloration hurt their survival chances. They discovered no obvious issues. (Being blue sure didn’t hurt Toby!)
Scientists also used the blue lobsters to study survival rates, following them for ten years. Right now, no one knows how long lobsters can live. Scientists can’t reliably judge a lobster’s age with an examination.
Toby the blue lobster is a vivid example of how small genetic variations create a delightful natural diversity that heightens our curiosity and encourages our appreciation for the world around us.
“Odd-Colored Lobsters Decoded” — National Geographic
“One in a Million” — Lobster Institute
“Rare Blue Lobster Joins National Aquarium” — The Dispatch
“Rare Blue Lobster, Toby, Comes Home to Maryland” — National Aquarium