Jackson Estuarine Laboratory


Daily and circadian rhythms of locomotor activity in the American lobster, Homarus americanus


It is widely accepted that American lobsters, Homarus americanus (Milne-Edwards), are nocturnally active. However, the degree to which this rhythm is expressed by different individuals and the underlying causes of lobster activity rhythms, are poorly understood. In order to address these issues we recorded daily patterns of lobster locomotion using two novel techniques. In the first, reed switch assemblies were used to monitor the distance traveled by freely moving lobsters (n=43), each fitted with a small magnet, as they walked around a 1 m diameter racetrack. The advantages of this technique included: (1) lobsters were freely moving; (2) the system could be deployed in laboratory tanks or in the field and; (3) actual distances moved were measured, not just relative activity. The second technique involved placing individual lobsters (n=10) into custom-designed running wheels. This allowed for continuous monitoring of locomotor activity for extended durations (>45 days) under normal light/dark (L/D) cycles, as well as in constant darkness (D/D) and constant light (L/L).

Under ambient light conditions lobsters in the racetracks moved an average of 60.1±6.5 m/day in flow-through seawater tanks. Overall, lobsters were significantly more active at night, moving 4.1±0.4 m/h in the dark vs. 1.0±0.2 m/h in the light. However, many of the lobsters moved as much during the day as during the night.

Lobsters in the running wheels moved an average of 36.6±11.7 m/day and 80% expressed clear daily rhythms of activity, with a mean periodicity of 24.0±0.1 h under L/D conditions. Under D/D conditions 90% of the animals expressed free-running circadian rhythms with a mean periodicity of 24.2±0.3 h, indicating that this species possesses endogenous rhythmicity. While the running wheel results show that the nocturnal pattern of locomotor activity for this species is strongly influenced by an endogenous circadian clock, the results from the racetracks show that there is remarkable variability in the extent to which they express this pattern under natural conditions.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Biological Sciences

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Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology



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© 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.