One of the most delicious seafood dishes is a plate of lobster.
Most of us know the bone-deep satisfaction of cracking open a lobster claw, dipping the meat in some melted butter, and experiencing true joy.
But not all lobsters have claws, and despite the name of one particular restaurant chain, no lobsters are red.
While we love to eat them (and sometimes don’t know what kind of lobster sits on our plate), many people know very little about them.
Types of Lobsters
Learn about common lobster varieties that might show up on your plate!
When you order surf and turf, the chances are good that the lobster you get will be a clawed lobster (Homarus americanus).
Also called Atlantic or Maine lobster, clawed lobsters have some pretty impressive claws they hold out in front of them.
Contrary to popular belief, these claws are for manipulating food, not for defending against predators. However, the claws are big enough that most clawed lobsters can’t use them to bring the food to their mouths.
Instead, they use the crusher claw to incapacitate or kill what it wants to eat and the pincer claw to rip it into bite-size pieces.
The age to which a clawed lobster can live is also impressive—most live to be at least 50 years old. Since lobsters never stop growing, you’ll have a lot of meat on your hands if you can find an old one.
While they are eaten around the world, clawed lobsters live in cooler Atlantic waters, preferring to hang around Maine, where settlers caught the first one in the seventeenth century. Since then, Maine has become an important producer of lobster worldwide.
The reef lobster sometimes gets called the purple/orange reef lobster. While lobsters can be many colors, reef lobsters usually end up one of those two.
Incidentally, no lobsters are red, despite most of us thinking that they are. The red coloration results from the cooking process, so if you see a red lobster, it’s ready for you to eat.
However, finding a cooked reef lobster will probably be a rare occurrence. They are generally kept in aquaria, though fishkeepers know to keep these omnivores separate from their other fish.
The reef lobster is primarily nocturnal, and many fish tank owners have reported waking up to their fish having been eaten by the guilty-looking crustacean in the tank.
While small in size for a lobster, the furry lobster lives up to its name and has small hairs all over its body.
There are three species of Furry lobster:
Alinurellus gundlachi spends its time in the Caribbean.
Palinurellus wieneckii is sometimes called the mole lobster and lives near and around Indonesia.
Palibythus magnificus lives in the South Pacific and is known as the musical furry lobster.
Spiny lobsters grow to about 15 inches long and live around Florida and the Caribbean.
The spines from which they get their names make it harder for predators to eat them.
Spiny lobsters usually have dark spots on a brownish shell, and unlike Maine lobsters, they don’t have big front claws.
They are harvested for the meat in their tails. When you find lobster marketed as “lobster tail,” the chances are good that you’ll eat a spiny lobster.
Commercial fishermen use nets and traps, while amateurs can grab a spiny lobster while scuba diving or snorkeling.
When you see one, you might think they’re called “squashed” lobsters because they look somewhat like a lobster that got flattened out.
However, they aren’t lobsters at all—they’re more closely related to hermit crabs. Unlike hermit crabs, they don’t carry a shell with them, but like hermit crabs, they generally live on the sea floor.
With hundreds of species of squat lobsters in the ocean, there are exceptions to the bottom-dwelling tendencies, but they are rare.
As for human consumption, squat lobster meat is often sold as langostino, which indicates the meat is neither lobster nor prawn. Unscrupulous sellers market squat lobster as lobster.
The primary use for Squat lobster meat is for trout and salmon farms because their meat contains astaxanthin. This pigment contributes to the color of the farmed salmon and trout meat.
The slipper lobster is an awkward-looking guy—a lobster with no claws, a lumbering gait, and an overall derpy vibe.
It’s slow and uncoordinated, but it’s widely regarded as among the tastiest of all lobsters.
This combination has led to overfishing, so it’s a rare thing these days to find slipper lobster on a menu.
They grow to about a foot long, and to compensate for the lack of claws, Slipper lobsters have much thicker carapaces than clawed lobsters.
In addition to humans, groupers and octopi prey on the Slipper lobster.
The blue lobster is not a species unto itself. You might find a blue clawed lobster or a spiny one.
Blue lobsters are simply lobsters that happen to be blue (though there is some conjecture among researchers that something about the blue coloring translates into a more aggressive lobster).
The draw is that they are exceedingly rare. Scientists estimate that one in every two million lobsters is blue.
Blue lobsters are so rare that many fishermen throw them back, no matter their size, arguing that they are too special a creature to eat.
Cold Water Lobster
Cold water lobster, like the designation of “blue lobster,” doesn’t stand as a specific lobster species.
Instead, they’re lobsters that live in cold water—waters closer to the poles than the equator.
The clawed lobster, or Maine lobster, is a cold water lobster and embodies the characteristics most of us associate with the word “lobster.” They have big claws and juicy white meat in those claws and tails.
Other lobsters on the list that fall under the cold water lobster umbrella are the slipper, the furry, and the spiny lobsters. Canadian lobsters and New Zealand lobsters are also cold water specimens.
Warm Water Lobster
When the B-52s sang “Rock Lobster” in 1978, they were singing about a warm water lobster.
Like “cold water,” these terms describe a collection of species with similar physical characteristics that live in warmer, more tropical waters than creatures like the Maine lobster.
Most warm water lobsters have no front claws (and if they do, they’re tiny), so they are prized for their tail meat.
The Caribbean is crawling with them, and they also dot the California coast.
But there are other tropical waters than those around the North American coasts, so you can find South African lobsters and Australian ones in this group.
The warm water lobster included here is the reef lobster.
Types of Lobsters
- Clawed Lobster
- Reef Lobster
- Furry Lobster
- Spiny Lobsters
- Squat Lobsters
- Slipper Lobster
- Blue Lobster
- Cold Water Lobster
- Warm Water Lobster
No matter where the lobster lives, it’s probably going to present you with some delicious eating. Cold water lobsters lean more toward looking like the iconic lobster most of us think of when we hear the word, but the warm water lobster varieties also yield tasty meat.
Overfishing has depressed many lobster species over the years, and as a result, many governments have set limits on the lobster fishing industry.
They’re still available for your dining pleasure, and a pleasure it is. Now that you know a little more about what’s on your plate, you can enjoy it that much more.
Want to learn more about your food? Check out other common types of shellfish or our favorite comfort foods for when you’re feeling down.
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