Lobsters Pee Out of...Where?!

For many of us, the upcoming months are a festive time spent with family and friends. Whether gathered around for a holiday meal or just spending some time together, there’s always a need for a “fun fact” to share with the group. Out of fun facts? Well look no further! Your fun fact for the day: lobsters pee out of their heads.

Wait, they do what?! Yup! It’s true! So what’s the deal? To start, animals need to communicate with others for lots of reasons. It could be to send an alarm, find a mate or defend a territory. Lobsters are no different. And in the ocean, chemicals, called pheromones, are an important communication method. These chemicals travel through the water, potentially impacting the behavior of another animal. If you’re a lobster hunkered down in your own cave, you need to communicate with other lobsters walking by. That’s where pee comes in!

Internal anatomy...find the bladder by the eyes (Gulf of Maine Research Institute)

A lobster’s bladder is located under their brain. Pheromones are created, added to the urine and then released from nephropores at the base of their antennae. And that urine stream can go far…up to seven feet away from the lobster. That’s some pretty powerful pee propulsion! But what is that urine “saying” to other lobsters? The pheromones are used mostly for love…and war.

Adult lobster looking for a place to hang out

This juvenile lobster found Home Sweet Shell

Lobsters face towards the entrance of their cave, making it easy to defend the home-front from other lobsters, with males asserting their dominance over neighboring lobsters. Peeing out of their heads is the most direct way for urine to travel out of their home into the surrounding water. If two males find themselves in the same area, one lobster is determined to be the strongest and may depend on the amount of pheromone in the urine stream. This gives him a competitive edge for the best shelter and preferential mating rights.

Lobster condos provides enough space for everyone!

Once the battle has been won, it’s now time to impress the ladies. A dominant male lobster will have a more attractive scent to female lobsters, indicating that he’s a good choice for a mate. Picking up on that scent, a female lobster cautiously approaches the male’s burrow and urinates towards him! This reduces his aggression, allowing the female to enter his cave for mating. And because she wants the male all to herself, the female will use more urine to tell other females walking by that the male lobster is “unavailable” at the current moment.

So there you have it…your fun fact for any gathering of family or friends. Need some more information on lobsters or want to take a trip to see lobsters in person? Head to the Aquarium and see a 12-pound lobster in our Gulf of Maine boulder reef exhibit or the 6-month old lobsters in our lobster nursery in the Blue Planet Action Center.

Lobsters helping us to learn about shell rot

More importantly, learn how Aquarium researchers study shell rot, a disease that’s impacting lobsters throughout New England, and work with lobster fishers to ensure healthy lobster populations for generations to come. And you never know…you may find your new fun fact while you’re here!


Ancient Fish Food

Lunchtime in the Ancient Fishes exhibit comes with equal parts "Awesome!" and "Ewww." You see, the elephantnose fish are fed blackworms through a feeding tube that delivers the writhing bolus to the gravelly bottom of the tank. That's where the elephantnose fish root around with their trunklike protrusions, which happens to be on their lower jaw and not their nose.

Aquarist Jeremy Brodt planted a GoPro camera at the bottom of the tank so you could have an up-close look at this awesomely chaotic feeding frenzy.

While there is evidence that the trunk-like proboscis may have electroreceptors, elephantnose fish primarily use this sensory organ to probe the substrate for food.

Elephantnose fish probe the gravel for leftovers

This species has a brain to body size ratio similar to that of humans! Much scientific research has been dedicated to study how elephantfish use weak electric fields to sense their surroundings and possibly to communicate. Perhaps their cerebellum is so enlarged to help them interpret bio-electrical signals.

Feeding time in this exhibit is always exciting, the elephantnose fish are just one of many fascinating creatures to observe. Visit the Aquarium and be sure to spend some time getting to know these well-evolved ancient fishes.

More about this exhibit:


Anaconda Gets a New Skin

As animals grow, different processes happen. Hermit crabs find a new shell to call home. Lobsters shed their shells and grow new ones. Flounders have one eye migrate to the other side of their body. For our three green anacondas on exhibit, it means it’s time to molt, or shed, their skin!

All stretched out
To start the process, the snake first “loosens up” the skin along their body by secreting fluid in between the old and new skin over the course of a week or two. Once ready to go, the snake rubs their head against an object, snagging their skin on a rock, tree root or some other obstacle, causing the stretched skin to split and start peeling off.

The perfect spot to take off that skin
The skin comes off in the same way you might peel off a long sock-if you pull at the top, the inside becomes the outside! The molted skin will sometimes come off as one piece, including the scale that covers each eye!

The white part is the skin being shed
The New England Aquarium’s anacondas molt fairly often, depending on how fast they have been growing. And with over 30 feet of snake on exhibit, there’s usually some molted skin to be seen.

Newly molted skin
When a particularly nice molt happens and the skin stays in one piece, the aquarists will often lay it out on the tops of tanks to dry it out. After some additional preparation and cleaning, educators can then show it off to visitors and behind the scene tours. And though the skins get stretched a bit, it still gives us an idea of how big the snakes are!

A recent molt left to dry

Close-up of the scale
The aquarists will remove any pieces of skin that are left over, but not before many fish in the exhibit have a snack. And while the fish make for a colorful exhibit, as well as tiny snake skin vacuums, these fish are part of an important conservation initiative.

Small fish, big project
Project Piaba works to foster sustainable trade at a commercial level for wild-caught aquarium fish in the Rio Negro basin of Brazil. By working with fishers in the area to create a sustainable fishery for these common hobbyist species, this in turn provides protection to this vital rainforest ecosystem from harmful practices and habitat destruction. It ensures these fish, and the anacondas, have a healthy home for future generations and supports local communities along the Rio Negro.

In the trees
With fewer visitors in the building, now's a great time to visit and "hang" out with the anacondas. You may see them with a new, brightly-colored skin and some fish with a tasty snack!

Love 'em or hate 'em, snakes are fascinating and important parts of our blue planet. Keep reading about these slinkly reptiles with a blog about anaconda check-ups with our vets.


Future Flamboyant Cuttlefish?

In vibrant swatches of moving color, the flamboyant cuttlefish have made quite a splash on Central Wharf. For the past several weeks, these small relatives of octopuses and squid have been living in the Tropical Gallery, showing off their ability to instantly change color or using their arms to “walk” across the exhibit floor. Only reaching 3 inches in length, these little animals are a visitor, and staff, favorite!

The colorful flamboyant cuttlefish

Native to the Indo-Pacific region, these particular cuttlefish were raised at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and then flown to Boston. While many aquaria across the U.S. showcase different cuttlefish species, there are very few that have flamboyant cuttlefish on exhibit. That makes us very excited to show them off! And while it’s amazing to watch these animals up close, we know it’s only for a short time. Like many of their relatives, the flamboyant cuttlefish only live about a year, so we make sure to enjoy them while we have them.

Hiding underneath a sea urchin
As with other species, flamboyant cuttlefish mate towards the end of their life. Males fight over the best mating dens and then settle in to wait. A female will appear at the den’s entrance, mate and then fertilize her eggs with the sperm packet the male has delivered to her. Once the fertilized eggs have been laid in well-protected spaces like ledges or crevices, the cuttlefish pass away. It’s always disappointing when it happens, but it’s a way of life in the cuttlefish world.

Mating behavior spotted on exhibit
The current batch of flamboyant cuttlefish are nearing the end of their lifespan, but we have hopes for future generations! Our expert staff and volunteers have successfully bred and raised the young of other species of cuttlefish and were up for the challenge with this new species. We had kept our fingers crossed that the flamboyant cuttlefish would settle in and eventually breed…and we weren’t disappointed. About a week ago…success!

Cuttlefish eggs...can you find the eye?
Mating behavior was recently spotted in the exhibit and not long after, the staff found several small, transparent eggs among the pieces of coral. The eggs were careful extracted from the exhibit and put into a gentle “tumbler” behind the scenes. This simple piece of equipment allows the eggs to stay healthy and develop without the worry of them being eaten by hungry sea stars or sea urchins while on exhibit.

Egg tumbler keeps the eggs gently moving
To add to our excitement, one egg, which was developmentally way ahead of the others, hatched! Smaller than your pinky nail, this little newbie is growing behind the scenes with the other eggs. Though it's small right now, you can tell this little guy has some big attitude!

Can you see it?
Big attitude in a teeny, tiny body
While we aren’t sure how many of this next generation will survive, we have our fingers crossed that it goes well. Given our past track record with other cuttlefish, we're hopeful what we can raise this new batch of flamboyant cuttlefish and showcase them in the exhibit once they get bigger. But for now, the staff and volunteers are working hard to keep these little colorful bundles healthy, and their sights on sharing these amazing animals with future Aquarium visitors!  


VIDEO: Flamboyant cuttlefish being fabulous

See some surprisingly beautiful animals—like a flamboyant cuttlefish—at the Aquarium. Plan a visit and buy your ticket online—no service charges.

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) may only grow to be 2 or 3 inches long and live just a few months, but they sure can make a spectacle. Just watch!


Did you notice the rippling stripes surging down the little cuttlefish's back? This species can hypnotize its prey and change colors using chromataphores in its skin. [Head over to KQED Science to learn about this remarkable ability.] All those flashy visuals also tell predators to steer clear of a toxic meal. The cuttlefish's skin is toxic—and even the aquarists have to be careful not to touch!

Flamboyant cuttlefish in its exhibit.

Native to the western Pacific, these flamboyant cuttlefish were hatched by our friends at Monterey Bay Aquarium and are now nearing the end of their lifespan. But exciting things are happening behind the scenes here on Central Wharf (hint: it's very, very tiny but still flamboyant). Stay tuned!