Beautiful Sunday: Colorful Crustaceans
Good morning! It is another Beautiful Sunday! Today, take a look at this beauty:
Yes, it’s really that blue. This lobster was recently caught by Meghan LaPlante, 14, and her father Jay, who operated the Miss Meghan Lobster Catch company in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. It is the same kind of lobster everyone is familiar with, but this one exhibits what scientists call, a color morph — that is, a distinct color or pattern that develops in a species.
Lobsters get their color from genetics and from the food they eat. Lobsters must eat animals that eat plants containing a carotenoid (“carrot pigment”) called astaxanthin. This orange pigment is only made by plants and is the same chemical that makes flamingos and salmon pink.
In lobsters, the orange astaxanthin binds to blue proteins on the lobster’s shell, giving the lobster that nice mixed greenish, brownish color we’re all familiar with.
Free astaxanthin appears red, but when it binds to proteins in the lobster’s shell, the bonds twist the pigment, changing its color. Depending on the type of protein it bonds to, there’s either what’s called a bathochromic shift, which turns the pigment blue, or a hyspochromic shift, to yellow. When you’re looking at a lobster, you’re seeing light reflecting through different layers of free and bonded astaxanthin–a lot of colors mixed together, hence the muddy brown. (Popular Science)
If lobsters don’t get enough astaxanthin, they will fade to blue because the blue protein will not be overlaid with astaxanthin. These lobsters will quickly return to their normal color if they are captured and fed properly.
But some lobsters have a genetic variation that creates an abundance of blue protein, enough to override the effect of astaxanthin. Like Skyler, these lobsters are permanently blue. This occurs in only 1 in 2 millions lobsters. Rare indeed.
But, there are other lobster colors that are even more rare.. and some might agree, more beautiful. Here are a few with the chances of occurrence provided by the University of Maine Lobster Institute (pdf):
Red 1:10 million
Lobsters turn red when you cook them because the heat breaks the protein bond leaving only free astaxanthin. But some lobsters are naturally red. This occurs when a genetic variation causes the lobster to produce too little blue protein.
Calico 1:30 million
Yellow 1:30 million
Split-color 1:50 million
All split-colored lobsters observed by the Lobster Institute are hermaphroditic — sporting both male and female characteristics.
Albino 1:100 million
The only lobsters that don’t turn red when you cook them are albinos, also known as “crystal” lobsters. These are the rarest of the rare color morphs.
Although letting Skyler go back to the deep blue sea would probably have been a better decision, Meghan and her father did spare Skyler’s life and donated him to the Maine State Aquarium. There he will live out his life — which could be as long as 100 years — and may help scientists better understand the genetics of lobsters.
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