”Sex, Violence and Pee in the face – Lobster Love turns out to be a Smelly Business

A lobster dinner is often perceived as the ultimate romantic meal, but while we happily utilize their bodies to promote our own chances of passionate encounters we actually know very little about the reproductive rituals that goes on deep down in the ocean. Did you for instance know that these super romantic creatures pee each other in the face before making sweet lobster love?

lobster mating

“Lobsters actually pee each other in the face to communicate” says researcher Malin Skog, a Ph.D. student at the University of Lund in Sweden that will be submitting her dissertation ”Sex and Violence in Lobsters – a Smelly Business” in September. Her research is focused on the importance of fighting and peeing when lobsters mate.

“I discovered that we hardly new anything about our lobster, despite the fact that it is such an important resource for the fishing industry” Malin Skog explains when asked about her peculiar interest in crustacean copulation.

By pairing up lobsters in aquariums, Malin Skog has been able to watch and film how males and females fight each other and how an encounter sometimes results in mating, sometimes in the male getting slapped and forced to retreat. This intricate behaviour seems to be controlled through scent particles excreted in urine. On a lobster, the olfactory organ (the “nose”) is located on the smaller pair of antennae on the head and the urine is also excreted from the head. So in order to communicate through scents, lobsters actually pee each other on the head.

During a lobster fight, the winning member will excrete a scent that means “I am stronger” while the loosing combatant will secrete a scent that says “I give up”. Fighting will not only take place between males and females; lobsters readily fight members of their own sex over food, shelter and general dominance. Regardless of sex, the most violent clashes occur when two individuals of similar size battle each other. Lobster fights can easily result in lost limbs, such as legs and antennae.

When a male lobster encounters a female, the meeting will start with a fight even if the couple is ready to breed. It seems as though the male doesn’t understand that he has found a female lobster until she starts emitting the “I am a girl”-scent. When he senses this scent, he will stop fighting and start walking around her instead, touching her and trying to tip her over on her back. (Lobsters mate in the missionary position, stomach to stomach.) Sometimes the female will readily approve to being flipped over, but in other cases she will object and if she stubbornly refuses to mate no mating will occur.

Sex and Violence in Lobsters – a Smelly Business, Malin Skog, a Ph.D. Lund university, Sweden
Interview in sydsvenskan.se (in Swedish)