Jackson Estuarine Laboratory


It is generally accepted that water temperature has a strong influence on the behavior of the American lobster Homarus americanus. However, there is surprisingly little behavioral evidence to support this view. To haracterize the behavioral responses of lobsters to thermal gradients, three different experiments were conducted. In the first, 40 lobsters acclimated to summer water temperatures (summer-acclimated, 15.5±0.2 °C, mean ±S.E.M.) were placed individually in an experimental shelter, and the temperature in the shelter was gradually raised until the lobster moved out. Lobsters avoided water warmer than 23.5±0.4 °C, which was an increase of 8.0±0.4 °C from ambient summer temperatures. When this experiment was repeated with lobsters acclimated to winter temperatures (winter-acclimated, 4.3±0.1 °C), the lobsters (N=30) did not find temperature increases of the same magnitude (∆T=8.0±0.4 °C) aversive.

The second experiment was designed to allow individual summer-acclimated lobsters (N=22) to select one of five shelters, ranging in temperature from 8.5 to 25.5 °C. After 24 h, 68 % of the lobsters occupied the 12.5 °C shelter, which was slightly above the ambient temperature (approximately 11 °C). In a similar experiment, winter-acclimated lobsters (N=30) were given a choice between two shelters, one at ambient temperature (4.6±0.2 °C) and one at a higher temperature (9.7±0.3 °C). Winter-acclimated lobsters showed a strong preference (90 %) for the heated shelter.

In the final experiment, summer-acclimated lobsters (N=9) were allowed to move freely in a tank having a thermal gradient of approximately 10 °C from one end to the other. Lobsters preferred a thermal niche of 16.5±0.4 °C and avoided water that was warmer than 19 °C or colder than 13 °C. When standardized for acclimation temperature, lobsters preferred water 1.2±0.4 °C above their previous ambient temperature. Collectively, the results of these studies indicate that lobsters are capable of sensing water temperature and use this information to thermoregulate behaviorally. The implications of these findings for lobster behavior and distribution in their natural habitat are discussed.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Experimental Biology


The Company of Biologists Ltd

Document Type



© 1998 by Company of Biologists