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Do Lobsters Mate for Life? A Fascinating Review on Lobster Reproduction Practices

Do Lobsters Mate for Life? A Fascinating Review on Lobster Reproduction Practices

Season 2 of the incredibly popular show Friends has an episode titled “The One with the Prom Video.” In this episode, Ross is stressed after taking a call from a man who wants to take Rachel on a date. He walks around the apartment talking it over with Phoebe and Chandler, expressing his feelings about how he should be with Rachel, and that he shouldn’t be taking messages for her from other guys.

Phoebe says to Ross “Hang in there. It’s gonna happen.” Ross asks why, and she says, “Because she’s your lobster.”

Phoebe goes on to say how it’s a known fact that lobsters fall in love and mate for life.

But, is it a known fact? Do lobsters mate for life?

Unfortunately for Friends fans, Phoebe Buffay was wrong — lobsters don’t mate for life. They have many partners and are genetically wired to focus more on the outcomes of mating (reproduction), rather than who they’re mating with.

Think of lobsters like just about any college student you’ve ever met — they’re not there for a long time, they’re there for a good time. And when the good times are over, they’ll look for another dorm room to spend a little time in.

We cover the following items in this post:

Do Lobsters Mate for Life?

A lobster walking the ocean floor

Unfortunately not. True love doesn’t exist with lobsters.

Lobsters don’t practice life-long monogamy. In fact, they’re much more promiscuous than you might think! Lobsters practice serial monogamy. This means these crustaceans can have multiple partners.

The process works like this: a female lobster identifies a male to reproduce with, she attracts him with her pheromones, she removes her exoskeleton, they mate, she grows another exoskeleton back, and then they both move on. She moves on to producing eggs, and the male moves on to the next lucky lady.

Serial Monogamy – The Lobster Way

Being serial monogamists, lobsters don’t spend much time with each partner. A 2005 NIH study found that 13% of examined female lobsters carried eggs that were fertilized by 2 or 3 males.

This may happen when a female lobster determines that the male lobster failed to produce enough sperm to fertilize all of her eggs. She then moves on to the next partner until she is satisfied with the output.

This means that if lobsters could talk, they would be on an episode of Maury trying to figure out who the father is.

How Female Lobsters Identify Dominant Males

A group of lobsters in the ocean. Do lobsters mate for life?

Identify The Partner

First, the female lobster identifies the local male lobster by finding his den. It doesn’t matter how handsome he is, she’s just looking for the man in charge.

Pee Before You See Me

A female lobster does just about the sexiest thing you can imagine to gain the attention of a dominant male: she pees.

Female lobsters pee just outside of a male lobster’s den. Their pee has pheromones, which are chemicals that stimulate a response from members of the same species. The female then fans the pee toward the den to get the attention of the male lobster.

The male lobster then puts down his guard, invites her in for a drink, and then she begins to undress so they can mate.

First, She Must Molt

A lobster shell after a female molted
A molted female lobster shell in the sand.

“Allow me to slip into something more comfortable.”

Molting is the process in which an animal sheds its old skin, feathers, or shell to allow for new growth.

Female lobsters must first shed their exoskeleton to allow for mating to begin. In lobsters, a hormonal change leads to the softening of the exoskeleton in the lower abdomen region. The lobster then begins to wiggle out of the weakened exoskeleton into something more comfortable (her skin). This may happen almost immediately after going into the male’s den, or after a few days.

However, molting puts all animals at risk, especially lobsters. They give up their protection after shedding their exoskeleton. When courting a dominant male they are trusting that they will be protected after mating.

It takes about 1-2 weeks for her new shell to mature and harden. During this period the female lobster will stay in the male lobster’s den to fully heal before adventuring outside.

They Mate

Once the old shell is fully removed, the two can mate.

Onto the Next

  • The female lobster. As mentioned above, the female lobster may not be satisfied with the session and will seek out another partner to fertilize her remaining eggs. She may do this even before her new exoskeleton is ready, but it’s a chance the female takes to ensure reproduction. If she is satisfied, and fully healed, she will move on and begin the 18-24 month process of releasing the eggs.
  • The male lobster. He bids farewell to the female and welcomes in a new mate during his mating season. Some lobsters time their molts so well that they’re essentially ready to mate as soon as the previous female lobster leaves. The male lobster needs to be ready to answer their call when they come knocking (or peeing more accurately).

What Animal Has Only One Mate for Life?

Beavers sitting next to each other. Do lobsters mate for life?

It’s rare to have long-term monogamous relationships in the animal kingdom. However, there are a few exceptions. Below are species that make that lifetime commitment:

  • Gibbons
  • Macaroni penguins
  • Beavers
  • Sandhill cranes
  • Bald eagles
  • Gray wolves

Final Thoughts: No Old Lobster Couples Will Spend their Whole Lives Together

Sadly, lobsters don’t mate for life. They don’t even mate for more than a few weeks. The females find a mate, ditch their hard shells, and make babies. No emotions are needed — it’s just biology.

But, don’t let that get your hopes up on finding the one! Next time you hear someone quote Friends when talking about lifetime love, be sure to correct them and let them know that they’re more beaver than they are lobster.

If you found this article interesting, you’ll be fascinated to learn more about why salmon swim upstream and their reproduction process as a whole.

And in the meantime, check out the great clip from Friends: