Can Maine lobsters really live forever?

It has long been theorized that Maine’s iconic crustaceans do not die at the hands of Father Time, and that the only ways that they’re mysterious lives come to an end is if they’re caught by lobstermen, killed by predators, or from disease.

Maine lobster. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN

Maine lobster. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN

Thanks to new and improving research, though, that theory might finally be put to rest.

One of the reasons that it’s been so difficult for scientists to figure out is due to the lobster’s molting process, which leaves almost nothing behind that would give any clue as to how old they are.

During the molting process the entire shell is shed, along with the stomach lining, the gills, and even the eyes themselves.

According to the website, however, researchers have found that lobsters have teeth in their stomach that last through the molts. These teeth can help figure out a lobster’s age because they have lines on them that act like tree rings.

The importance of the lines is still being determined. Researchers are still trying to figure out just how they’re formed, and whether or not factors like water temperature affect their appearance or growth rate.

Lobster teeth. Photo credit- Gaya Gnanalingam, from

Lobster teeth. Photo credit- Gaya Gnanalingam, from

They can live to at least 100 years though, according to Thomas Matthews, a lobster biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is about five times as long as the life span of the Caribbean spiny lobster, which lives about 20 years.

The difference in life spans is attributed to the water temperatures in which they live.

The warmer waters of the Caribbean cause the spiny lobster’s metabolism to work much faster, while the cold waters of the northern Atlantic allow for the Maine lobster’s metabolism to work much more slowly, which causes them to age at a much slower rate and live longer.

This long life span is beneficial to the Maine lobster industry because the lobsters can continue to reproduce no matter how old they are.

That- coupled with the fact that they never stop growing- acts as a sort of security blanket for the lobster stock in Maine because not only are they less likely to die at the hands of predators or get caught in a trap as they increase in size, but they also tend to become better at ensuring the survival of their offspring as they age.

According to Matthews, older female lobsters tend to be better mothers because they release their eggs farther out to sea than younger lobsters who usually lay their eggs close to shore where factors such as pollution and too much sediment can kill the eggs.

Pregnant female Maine lobster. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Pregnant female Maine lobster. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

There are still many unknowns when it comes to determining a lobster’s age, but it looks as if the myth of the immortal lobster has been debunked once and for all.

“Lobsters age just like most other organisms,” said Matthews. “They don’t live forever.”

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.