How Long Do Lobsters Live? – Are They Immortal?

Blue lobster on rocky terrain in the wild

Like the Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as immortal jellyfish, lobsters are also believed by many to be immortal creatures immune to death. But, could there be truth about this popular myth?

Join us as we unravel and debunk the myths about lobster lifespan and immortality in this guide! We also have cool facts and videos to deepen your understanding of these crustaceans.

How Long Do Lobsters Live?

European lobster wedged between rocks

Lobsters are marine crustaceans known for their long lifespans. However, they are not immortal. Depending on the species, they can live from 40 to 100 years in the wild. Their longevity is partly due to their impressive biological capabilities.

Although they live considerably longer, various factors, such as environmental factors, exhaustion, disease, water temperature, and predation, could still affect their lifespan and cause them to die.

Do Lobsters Live Forever? – The Myth of Lobster Immortality

Contrary to popular belief, lobsters are not immortal and do not live forever. Nevertheless, the belief about lobsters’ immortality likely arose from their impressive biological ability, enabling them to live significantly long, for decades or even a century!

To better understand how lobsters can live such long lives, we should look at how their biological aging process differs from other beings.

Senescence, or biological aging, is the gradual deterioration of functional characteristics in organisms over time. In most animals, including humans, this process is characterized by weakening bodily functions, leading to an increased likelihood of death with advancing age.

This is due, in part, to the shortening of telomeres, the protective end caps of DNA strands, which occurs every time a cell divides. Eventually, the cells lose their ability to divide, resulting in tissue degradation and the common signs of aging.

In lobsters, however, senescence is not observed in the same way. This is primarily due to the persistent activity of the enzyme telomerase, which, as mentioned previously, repairs and extends telomeres.

This activity allows their cells to divide indefinitely, avoiding the deterioration over time that is typical in other species.

As a result, lobsters do not suffer from the age-related decline in their reproductive capabilities, strength, or health, which are typical markers of senescence in other animals.

While lobsters have a unique ability to maintain the integrity of their DNA, which can slow down the aging process, they eventually face natural death due to other biological factors.

Molting, the process of shedding and regenerating their exoskeleton, is essential for their growth but becomes increasingly exhausting and stressful as lobsters age.

I once witnessed the strenuous lobster molting process in our research facility. It took the lobster five days to successfully shed its exoskeleton.

It is during this energy-intensive process that older lobsters often succumb to death. Their size also makes them more vulnerable to predation and harder to escape from traps, affecting their chances of survival.

Their long lifespans have been the subject of much fascination and have led to myths about their immortality, but scientific evidence shows they have a finite lifespan.

Fun Fact: True biological immortality is rare and, among animals, is currently only attributed to the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish, which can revert to its juvenile form after reaching maturity.

Here is a video of a lobster shedding its exoskeleton:

Watch Leon leave His Body - The 2nd Molt

Factors Influencing Lobster Lifespan

Spiny lobster walking on a sandy sea floor

Lobsters, with their distinct biology and genetics, are known for their lengthy lifespans compared to many other marine species. Nevertheless, several factors can influence their lifespan.

Here are some of the factors that can affect the lifespan of lobsters:

  • Genetics: One of the most significant factors is their unique genetic makeup. Lobsters produce an enzyme called telomerase, which repairs their DNA and prevents the shortening of telomeres. This genetic advantage contributes significantly to their longevity.
  • Molting Process: Lobsters grow by molting, which requires shedding their exoskeleton. The frequency and energy demand of molting increases as lobsters get larger. Eventually, molting can become so energy-consuming that it can be fatal.
  • Environmental Conditions: The quality of their habitat, including cleanliness, availability of food, and the presence of pollutants, significantly affects their lifespan. Ideal living conditions can enhance longevity, while poor conditions can reduce it.
  • Predation and Human Fishing: Predators pose a constant threat to lobsters. Human activities, especially fishing, also profoundly impact lobster populations. Overfishing can deplete lobster stocks and significantly decrease their average lifespan in certain areas.
  • Disease: Like all living creatures, lobsters can suffer from various diseases, which can drastically shorten their lifespan. Lobsters’ ability to fight off diseases can wane as the effort to molt and the energy required to maintain their large size increases with age.
  • Water Temperature: The American Lobster (Homarus americanus), which thrives in the cooler waters of the North Atlantic, generally lives longer than its warm-water counterparts, such as the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus). This is due to a slower metabolic rate in cooler waters, which reduces the physiological stresses associated with growth and molting.

While lobsters have a genetic advantage that may predispose them to longer lifespans, their actual longevity is not guaranteed and is influenced by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Typical Lifespan of Common Lobster Species

Although lobsters live relatively longer in general, the lifespan of each lobster species still varies.

Here is a table showing the typical lifespan of some common lobster species:

Common NameScientific NameTypical Lifespan
Atlantic or American LobsterHomarus americanus50–100 years
European LobsterHomarus gammarus30–80 years
Norway LobsterNephrops norvegicus10–20 years
Caribbean Spiny LobsterPanulirus argusUp to 15 years
Common Spiny LobsterPalinurus elephasUp to 25 years

Environmental factors and biological characteristics influence the lifespan of a lobster species. Each species of lobster has a typical range of years they can live, often determined by their habitats and lifestyles.

How Old Is the Oldest Lobster?

Lobster with intricate patterns seen among rocks underwater

Although unofficial, the oldest known lobster is George, an Atlantic Lobster estimated to be around 140 years old. Caught off Newfoundland, Canada, in 2008, this lobster weighed 20 pounds.

Other notable old lobsters include Louie, estimated at 132 years old, which lived in captivity in a New York restaurant’s tank before being released, and Larry from Florida, believed to be about 110 years old.

Can You Tell How Old a Lobster Is?

Determining the age of a lobster is not straightforward. Unlike trees, lobsters don’t have rings to count, and they molt, shedding their hard shell as they grow, which discards potential age markers.

The common method used to estimate a lobster’s age is by size. The assumption is that lobsters grow a pound every seven to ten years.

However, this method is not precise, as it doesn’t account for variables like diet, availability of food sources, water temperature, and genetics that affect growth rates.

Scientists have been working on more accurate ways to age lobsters. Research suggests that lobsters may have growth bands in the eyestalk or gastric mill, similar to rings in a tree.

However, this method is still experimental and has yet to be widely used. Moreover, lobsters’ regenerative abilities, which allow them to replace lost limbs, also complicate age determination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Striped lobster navigating the sea floor

Can Lobsters Live Over 100 Years?

Yes, lobsters, specifically Atlantic Lobsters, can live over 100 years. Their unique biology can lead to a long lifespan, including the ability to continually grow and repair their DNA, which helps prevent aging.

The oldest documented lobster was estimated to be 140 years old. Such ages are exceptional and not typical for all lobsters, as their lifespan can vary significantly due to various factors.

Can Lobsters Live Over 200 Years?

There is no scientific evidence yet to support the claim that lobsters can live over 200 years. However, this does not mean they can’t.

While lobsters have a unique biology that allows for potential longevity, the oldest recorded lobster was estimated to be 140 years old. Environmental factors, predation, and human fishing significantly impact their lifespan.

How Old Is a Lobster When You Eat It?

Typically, the lobsters we eat range from 5 to 7 years old. Lobsters at this age are usually about 1 to 2 pounds, the preferred size for consumption.

Commercially fished lobsters are regulated to ensure sustainability, with size limits to allow younger lobsters to grow and reproduce. This means that young and old lobsters are usually kept from being sold and eaten.

How Long Can a Lobster Live Out of Water?

Lobsters can survive for a limited time out of water, typically lasting about 24 to 48 hours if kept in cool, moist conditions. They breathe through gills and require a moist environment to exchange oxygen.

To maximize their survival out of water, lobsters are often stored in a refrigerated environment with wet seaweed or cloths to keep them moist.

Without these conditions, their gills would dry out, and they wouldn’t be able to breathe.

Besides their palatability, there is more to know about lobsters — especially their impressive lifespan. If you have other questions or trivia about lobster longevity, just comment below! We’d love to hear from you!

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