Lobster 101: Color

Bright blue lobsters turn red when they are cooked. Photo courtesy of Maine State Aquarium.

Bright blue lobsters turn red when they are cooked. Photo courtesy of Maine State Aquarium.

Have you ever seen a blue lobster? About one out of every two million lobsters may come up in a trap colored blue. Your chances of finding a yellow lobster are even less; a yellow lobster is only seen once in 30 million lobsters. However, the rarest lobster is a white lobster. The chance of seeing a white lobster is only one in 100 million. There are even lobsters that are two different colors, one on each half of their bodies. These bi-colored lobsters are typically hermaphrodites bearing a male sex organ on one side of their body and a female sex organ on the other side. Lobstermen have also hauled up calico lobsters, orange lobsters, even bright red lobsters!

Human beings come in different colors for much the same reason that lobsters do – the predominance of certain pigments. A pigment called melanin determines human skin color while lobster shells contain the pigment astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is naturally red, but when it binds with certain proteins it can appear blue or yellow. White lobsters are albinos and lack any pigments in their shells.

If lobsters could choose the color of their shells, they probably would not pick blue and definitely not yellow. Standing out from the crowd is not in any animal’s best interests. The normal coloring of a lobster (greenish blue to blackish brown) helps it blend in to its environment, protecting it from predators. A yellow lobster is easy to see in dark water along the bottom on the ocean.

People are probably most used to seeing bright red lobsters. In fact, red is the color most commonly used in illustrations of lobsters. But a red lobster is a cooked lobster. Even blue and yellow lobsters turn bright red when they are cooked. When the lobster shell is introduced to heat, the proteins that astaxanthin bind to are destroyed so the pigment shows up in its natural state, a bright red. The only kind of lobster that won’t become red when cooked is a white lobster because it doesn’t contain any pigments at all.

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Three colors of lobsters. Photo courtesy of Maine State Aquarium.

Three colors of lobsters. Photo courtesy of Maine State Aquarium.

Calico, orange, and blue lobsters are rare. Photo courtesy of Maine State Aquarium.

Calico, orange, and blue lobsters are rare. Photo courtesy of Maine State Aquarium.