Electric-blue lobster found in Billingsgate fish market

09 November 2011

A striking electric-blue lobster has been found in the UK and given a new home at the London Aquarium, after a short stay at the Natural History Museum this week.

A typical European lobster is a dark blue colour, shown on top, and the electric-blue specimen below

A typical European lobster is a dark blue colour, shown at the top in comparison with the electric-blue specimen at the bottom

The European lobster is typically a dark blue colour when it is alive. However, this specimen’s unusual colour stood out and so it was spotted by fishmonger Rex Goldsmith at Billingsgate Market, London, at the end of last week.

‘It’s the most striking blue lobster I have seen in my 30 years in the business,’ says Rex who was buying supplies for his shop, The Chelsea Fishmonger. ‘It was too nice to put in a pot and boil,’ he said, and instead contacted crustacean scientist Paul Clark at the Museum.

Paul confirmed the species of lobster as the European (or common) lobster, Homarus gammarus, which is native in the UK. Paul and his colleagues prepared a temporary tank for the lobster, pumping air through sea water, to help revive the animal.

European lobster

The European lobster is closely related to the American lobster, Homarus americanus, but is smaller and less aggressive. It can live to over 15 years in the wild. However, the species is heavily fished commercially so it rarely reaches this age.

European lobsters are dark blue with yellowish spots and cream-coloured undersides. They have huge claws - the larger is known as the ‘crusher’ claw, and the other, more slender, the ‘cutter’ claw. This specimen probably hatched out with this colour as a result of a rare genetic variant.

As well as being native to the UK, the species is found from Norway into the Mediterranean as far east as Crete, and farther south in the Azores and on Atlantic coast of Morocco. The electric-blue specimen was caught off the east coast of Scotland.

Crustaceans

Lobsters are crustaceans,  like shrimp, crabs and and smaller creatures such as the microscopic copepods. They have rigid external skeletons that they shed periodically to enable them to grow into a new and larger skin.

Museum collection

The Museum looks after a crustacea collection, which ranges from crabs, krill and shrimp, to 27,000 jars of plankton samples. Scientists use the specimens to investigate a wide range of topics such as ocean biodiversity and environmental change.

Lobster’s new home

Preserving the colour of spectacular specimens like this electric-blue lobster is not always guaranteed. The alcohol used in the process will bleach away the colour after a few years, says Paul. 

However, this striking specimen will be on display at the London Aquarium, once it has been through quarantine, and so can be admired there for hopefully many more years to come.

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