Learn about the parts and anatomy of a lobster as well as the lingo used in the lobster trade. Note this guide and glossary cover the basic parts of the Maine lobster—the kind of lobster found in the cold waters of the Atlantic coast.
Here is a little primer on the parts of the lobster so you know what you are cracking into! Speaking of eating lobster, learn how to crack and eat a whole lobster.
Shell: The shell is the lobster’s skeleton and it cannot grow. A lobster must shed its shell in order to grow. It’s called molting. Find out why molting is important in buying a good hard-shell lobster.
Antennas: Lobsters have four long and thin antennas covered by tiny hairs. Lobsters flick their antennas to smell.
Stalks: Lobsters have eyes on long, thin structure called stalks. Find out more about lobster’s compound eyes.
Carapace: It is the armor-like body of the crustacean with the claws, knuckles and tail removed. It houses the legs, tomalley (see below), and, in the females, the roe (see below). In the State of Maine legal lobsters are measured by shell length. Lobsters that measure under 3 ¼ inches or more than five inches have to go back in the water.
Legs: Lobsters have 10 legs. The four pairs of legs contain small strips of meat that take some work to remove. Lobsters use the eight back legs to walk. The front legs have claws called pincers. Lobsters will walk along the ocean floor at night in search of food.
Claws: Lobsters use their claws to catch food and battle predators and other lobsters. The larger of the two claws is called the crusher claw and the smaller claw is called the pincer or cutter claw. The claws of hard-shell lobsters are full of tender, sweet meat.
Knuckles: The two joints to connect the large claws to the carapace. Connoisseurs say the knuckle meat is the tastiest.
Tails: The tail holds the biggest piece of meat in the lobster.
What’s the Stuff Inside Your Lobster?
Ever wonder what the stuff is inside a freshly cracked open lobster?
Roe: The red stuff is the “coral” or tiny lobster eggs of the female lobster. It is found at the base of the body and along the tail. The roe is black uncooked, but the color can vary depending on the lobster’s diet. Lobster eggs were once considered a delicacy, like caviar.
White Stuff: The lobster blood, looks like egg whites, uncooked, it’s clear. Try it in sauces.
Tomalley: The light-green tomalley (hepatopancreas) in the carapace of the lobster is the liver and pancreas. Although lobster lovers adore the rich as butter tomalley, it should not be eaten regularly. As with other animals, contaminants may settle in the liver, so it’s best to be on the safe side.
Shorts or Snappers: A lobster under the legal size limit.
Canners: Small lobsters approximately 1/2 to 1 pound. They took their name in the 1880s because these size lobsters were “canned” and sold on shelves.
Market: A size category for lobsters available for sale ranging from 1 to 3 pounds.
Chickens: A lobster weighing about 1 pound.
Culls: A lobster that has lost one or both claws. Normally sold at a lower price.
Quarters: A lobster weighing 1-1/4 pounds. Buy quarters
Selects: A lobster weighing from 1 ½ to 1 3/4 pound. Buy select lobsters.
Deuces: A lobster weighing about 2 pounds. Buy deauces or 2 lb. lobsters.
Jumbos: A lobster weighing over 2-1/2 pounds. Order jumbo lobsters!
Interested in ordering live lobster online, but unsure of what size to buy? Here are some tips on what size lobster to order.
Lobster Anatomy Quick FAQS
A Maine lobster has 19 body parts!
Lobster’s blood is colorless and when exposed to oxygen it turns to a tint of blue. The blue hue is due to the iron the lobster’s body used to transport oxygen. Human red-colored blood is due to iron being the oxygen carrier.
When lobsters are cooked the blood turns to a white, opaque color and has a gel-like consistency. It is safe to eat.
The hard red substance is the roe or the eggs of the female lobster. It is also called the coral because of the deep red color. The roe will be black and will appear gelatin-like if your lobster is under-cooked. It is edible but can also be rinsed out. Learn more about what’s inside a lobster.
The green substance is the liver, also known as tomalleye. It can be rinsed out of the cooked lobster.
On occasion, a lobster will drop its claw as a defense mechanism. This can happen in shipping and in the wild. Lobsters will battle other lobsters over territorial rites.
A lobster with only one claw is called a Cull and is often a good deal at the local lobster pound.
It can take several molts for a lobster to grow back its claw. If your lobster arrives alive it is fine to cook up the lobster and its dropped or broken off claws.
The American lobsters are usually bluish green to brown with red spines when uncooked. However, an estimated one in 2 million lobsters are blue. Lobsters only turn ‘red’ when cooked.
This was fascinating information, thank you! And I enjoyed the humor. I bear no ill will to anyone who farms, fishes or eats lobster, but this all confirms that I could never eat one, although I’m sure they’re delicious. (For 40 years I was veg, then sadly, for health reasons, began to eat birds and fish.) Lobsters are just to amazing to eat. And remember the one that became a news story a few decades back? 150 years old and walked the ocean floor to the US East Coast from Asia! Incredible accomplishment! More than I’ve ever done. Couldn’t eat ’em.
If you have time for a Q, can a lobster survive in the wild if it has lost both its claws? Can it even eat, if has only one? Seems like killing and eating would be a two-claw job. Anyway, thanks so much for the history and anatomy lesson!
Their claws grow back 🙂
Since this is lobster lingo, the correct terminology is tomalley (from the Carib word tumale, meaning a sauce of lobster liver), not tamale, (from the Spanish word tamal, plural tamales, in Mesoamerican cuisine, a small steamed cake of dough made from corn).
Thanks for spotting the typo and the etymology information. While some lobster lovers love the tomally, I would rather have a chicken tamale!