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The American lobster, Homarus americanus, is a species of lobster found on the Atlantic coast of North America, chiefly from Labrador to New Jersey. Within North America, it is also known as the northern lobster or Maine lobster. It can reach a body length of 64 cm (25 in), and a mass of over 20 kilograms (44 lb), making it the heaviest crustacean in the world. Its closest relative is the European lobster Homarus gammarus, which can be distinguished by its coloration and the lack of spines on the underside of the rostrum. American lobsters are usually bluish green to brown with red spines, but a number of color variations have been observed.
Homarus americanus is distributed along the Atlantic coast of North America, from Labrador in the north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in the south. South of New Jersey, the species is uncommon, and landings in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina usually make up less than 0.1% of all landings. A fossil claw assigned to Homarus americanus was found at Nantucket, dating from the Pleistocene.
Habitat and Ecology
This species lives in a wide variety of habitats, but is reliant on shelter. It is most commonly found on rocky reefs, but at depths of 700 m it can be found inhabiting burrows in the walls of submarine canyons (Cobb and Castro 2006); however, it is most commonly found between depths of 0-50m. Post larvae settle in shallow water (less than 30m) and are associated with cobble/boulder habitats. As they grow that asscoation relaxes, and they undergo short distance movements with expansion into longer distance movements. Deep water populations are derived from shallow water recruitement. Deeper water individuals are typically found on mud habitats, peat reefs, seagrass beds, and sandy depressions (Lawton and Lavalli 1995). Deep water individuals are typically found on similar substrates as well as clay substrates. They are found at temperatures ranging from 5º C to 20º C; but can tolerate a temperature range of 1º C to 30.5º C (van der Meeren et al. 2009).
Although this species is not endangered, conservation efforts have been implemented to preserve lobster populations from overfishing. Laws regulate the size of lobsters taken, which increases the number of females reaching sexual maturity and reproducing before being harvested. Other regulations include limiting the number of traps set, limits on lobstering licenses, and times of the year when lobsters are harvested. Another volunteer program implemented is cutting a "V" notch in the tail when a female carrying eggs is trapped. She is returned to the sea and if caught again is not supposed to be harvested since she is a known egg producer.
In the nearshore Southern New England stock there have been prevalence rates of shell disease of about 30%. This threat is localized to warmer water regions.
This is the largest commercial fishery of any lobster fishery in the world (R. Wahle pers. comm. 2009).
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- Gaëlle Wizenberg
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Freshwater and Marine Image Bank
Marine Image Bank (Public Domain)