Lobsters are famous for a few things—their big, buff front claws, for one! But they have long been known as a seafood delicacy, not to mention the fact that their exoskeleton turns a bright, deep red when cooked.
This red shade is so strongly associated with lobsters, that many of us grow up thinking that these animals are that colour in the wild. (This writer certainly did!) But being bright red would not be ideal in the open sea—predators could easily spot the crustaceans if this were the case. Instead, lobsters are a mottled brown-green-blue colour blend, which perfectly matches the seafloor.
So you can imagine the surprise of Niki Lundqvist of Whitby, Ontario when she walked into her local grocery store and saw an orange lobster in the tank. That's not normal!
Though not quite red, it definitely stood out from the other lobsters. So much so that Lundqvist told CBC that the "other lobsters were kind of picking on him, quite literally with their claws." Lundqvist's partner co-manages the grocery store and they also noticed that no one was interested in buying the orange lobster. She also found out that such lobsters are extremely rare.
Unlike pretty much all other animal products in a grocery store, lobsters are sold alive. And this gave Lundqvist the chance to stage a rescue! She adopted the creature and named it Pinchy, after an episode of The Simpsons where Homer buys a lobster with the intention of eating it, only to begin to care for it as a pet!
With Pinchy safe from becoming someone's dinner, it was time to find him a more permanent home. They thought about releasing him into the ocean, but worried that he would be an easy target for predators. Then they got the idea of reaching out to the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in Toronto.
Not only is the aquarium home to all sorts of stunning marine life, it has several lobsters in rare colours, including brilliant blues and, yes, even an orange one! Pinchy will have a friend!
Welcome to the family, Pinchy!🦞 💙 https://t.co/hSp632dHQv
— Ripley's Aquarium of Canada (@RipleysAquaCA) September 25, 2021
Why DO lobsters turn red?
Now that Pinchy is safe and sound, let's end by turning our attention to a more common—but no less fascinating!—question about lobsters.
Why do they turn red when cooked?
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It comes down to the lobster's diet and a really interesting chemical reaction that takes place in the high heat of boiling water.
The normal colour of lobsters is the result of two molecules found in the food they eat—crustacyanin and astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, which give us pigments like yellow, orange, and, in this case, red. But when it binds with crustacyanin, it turns darker brown, blue, and green shades.
When the lobster is cooked though, the attachment between the two molecules breaks quickly. Now the astaxanthin shows its true colour—that distinct, rich red. Seafood science!