1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lobster

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33977731911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16 — LobsterWilliam Thomas Calman

LOBSTER (O.E. lopustre, lopystre, a corruption of Lat. locusta, lobster or other marine shell-fish; also a locust), an edible crustacean found on the coasts of the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. The name is sometimes loosely applied to any of the larger Crustacea of the order Macrura, especially to such as are used for food.

The true lobsters, forming the family Homaridae, are distinguished from the other Macrura by having the first three pairs of legs terminating in chelae or pincers. The first pair are large and massive and are composed of six segments, while the remaining legs are each composed of seven segments. The sternum of the last thoracic somite is immovably united with the preceding. This last character, together with some peculiarities of the branchial system, distinguish the lobsters from the freshwater crayfishes. The common lobster (Homarus gammarus or vulgaris) is found on the European coasts from Norway to the Mediterranean. The American lobster (Homarus americanus), which should perhaps be ranked as a variety rather than as a distinct species, is found on the Atlantic coast of North America from Labrador to Cape Hatteras. A third species, found at the Cape of Good Hope, is of small size and of no economic importance.

Both in Europe and in America the lobster is the object of an important fishery. It lives in shallow water, in rocky places, and is usually captured in traps known as lobster-pots, or creels, made of wickerwork or of hoops covered with netting, and having funnel-shaped openings permitting entrance but preventing escape. These traps are baited with pieces of fish, preferably stale, and are sunk on ground frequented by lobsters, the place of each being marked by a buoy. In Europe the lobsters are generally sent to market in the fresh state, but in America, especially in the northern New England states and in the maritime provinces of Canada, the canning of lobsters is an important industry. The European lobster rarely reaches 10 pounds in weight, though individuals of 14 pounds have been found, and in America there are authentic records of lobsters weighing 20 to 23 pounds.

The effects of over-fishing have become apparent, especially in America, rather in the reduced average size of the lobsters caught than in any diminution of the total yield. The imposition of a close time to protect the spawning lobsters has been often tried, but as the female carries the spawn attached to her body for nearly twelve months after spawning it is impossible to give any effective protection by this means. The prohibition of the capture of females carrying spawn, or, as it is termed, “in berry,” is difficult to enforce. A minimum size, below which it is illegal to sell lobsters, is fixed by law in most lobster-fishing districts, but the value of the protection so given has also been questioned.

The Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) is found, like the common lobster, from Norway to the Mediterranean. It is a smaller species, with long and slender claws and is of an orange colour, often beautifully marked with red and blue. It is found in deeper water and is generally captured by trawling. It is a curious and unexplained fact that nearly all the individuals so captured are males. It is less esteemed for food than the common species. In London it is sold under the name of “Dublin prawn.”

The rock lobster, spiny lobster, or sea-crawfish (Palinurus vulgaris) belongs to the family Palinuridae, distinguished from the Homaridae by the fact that the first legs are not provided with chelae or pincers, and that all the legs possess only six segments. The antennae are very long and thick. It is found on the southern and western coasts of the British, Islands and extends to the Mediterranean. It is highly esteemed for the table, especially in France, where it goes by the name of Langouste. Other species of the same family are used for food in various parts of the world, especially on the Pacific coast of North America and in Australia and New Zealand.

In Melbourne and Sydney the name of “Murray lobster” is given to a large species of crayfish (Astacopsis spinifer, formerly known as Astacus, or Potamobius serratus) which is much used for food.  (W. T. Ca.)