Chemical Communication in Lobsters



Lobsters are fascinating animals that use chemicals as messages regarding their sexual status, their standing in a social hierarchy, and whether they affiliate with or avoid conspecifics. This, plus their economic importance, makes them important models for the study of intraspecific chemical communication. Our chapter is an overview of these processes, including the types of interactions between lobsters influenced by chemicals, how those interactions are affected by chemicals, and how these chemicals are detected. Since “lobster” refers to a common body plan rather than a taxonomic group and thus includes animals of differing phylogenetic relatedness and lifestyles – most notably clawed lobsters, spiny lobsters, and slipper lobsters, their use of chemicals in intraspecific interactions is diverse. Whenever possible, we compare the different groups of lobsters, though the amount of data available for relevant behaviors varies with the lifestyle of lobsters. Clawed lobsters use urinary chemicals processed by the olfactory pathway to identify previous opponents and maintain a stable social order, which is important because only the most dominant males will mate. After a hierarchy has been established by fighting, subsequent rematches are shorter and less violent, with urinary chemicals playing a key role in this process. Mate choice and mating behavior are also mediated by urinary olfactory cues. These behaviors are disrupted when one of the animals either has a compromised olfactory sense or is not allowed to release urine. Although there is less available data, the picture seems similar in spiny lobsters, with females using urinary chemicals from males as one of the cues in mate selection. Both spiny and slipper lobsters form dominance hierarchies, but little is known about how they are influenced by chemical signals. Conversely, spiny lobsters have been extensively studied regarding the mechanisms of aggregation and avoidance. Aggregation is mediated by urine-borne chemicals and avoidance is mediated by blood-borne chemicals, both processed by the olfactory system. Molecular identification of these compounds will be critical in allowing researchers to study the neural processing of intraspecific chemicals.


Blue Crab Dominance Hierarchy Hermit Crab Chemical Communication Spiny Lobster 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Funding was provided by NSF grants IBN-0614685.


  1. Atema J, Cobb JS (1980) Social behavior. In: Cobb JS, Phillips BR (eds) The biology and management of lobsters: physiology and behavior. Academic, New York, pp 409–450Google Scholar
  2. Atema J, Steinbach MA (2007) Chemical communication and social behavior in the lobster Homarus americanus and other decapod Crustacea. In: Duffy JE, Thiel M (eds) Evolutionary ecology of social and sexual systems: crustaceans as model organisms. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 115–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atema J, Voigt R (1995) Behavior and sensory biology. In: Factor JR (ed) Biology of the lobster Homarus americanus. Academic, New York, pp 313–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barshaw D, Spanier E (1994) The undiscovered lobster: a first look at the social behaviour of the Mediterranean slipper lobster Scyllarides latus (Decapoda, Scyllaridae). Crustaceana 67:187–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Behringer DC, Butler MJ, Shields JD (2006) Avoidance of disease by social lobsters. Nature 441:421CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Behringer DC, Butler MJ, Shields JD (2008) Ecological and physiological effects of Pav1 infection on the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus Latreille). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 359:26–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Belanger RM, Moore PA (2006) The use of the major chelae by reproductive male crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) for discrimination of female odours. Behaviour 143:713–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Belanger RM, Moore PA (2009) The role of the major chelae in the localization and sampling of male odours by male crayfish, Orconectes rusticus (Girard, 1852). Crustaceana 82:653–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berrill M (1975) Gregarious behavior of juveniles of the spiny lobster, Panulirus argus (Crustacea; Decapoda). Bull Mar Sci 25:515–522Google Scholar
  10. Berrill M (1976) Aggressive behaviour of post-puerulus larvae of the Western rock lobster Panulirus longipes (Milne-Edwards). Austr J Mar Freshwat Res 27:83–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Berry PF (1971) The spiny lobsters (Palinuridae) of the east coast of southern Africa. Distribution and ecological notes. Oceanogr Res Inst (Durban) Invest Rep 21:1–16Google Scholar
  12. Breithaupt T, Atema J (2000) The timing of chemical signaling with urine in dominance fights of male lobsters (Homarus americanus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:67–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Briones-Fourzán P (2009) Assessment of predation risk through conspecific alarm odors by spiny lobsters. Commun Integr Biol 2:302–304CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Briones-Fourzán P, Pérez-Ortiz M, Lozano-Álvarez E (2006) Defense mechanisms and antipredator behavior in two sympatric species of spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus and P. guttatus. Mar Biol 149:227239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Briones-Fourzán P, Ramírez-Zaldívar E, Lozano-Álvarez E (2008) Influence of conspecific and heterospecific aggregation cues and alarm odors on shelter choice by syntopic spiny lobsters. Biol Bull 215:182–190CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Bushmann PJ (1999) Concurrent signals and behavioral plasticity in blue crab (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun) courtship. Biol Bull 197:63–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bushmann PJ, Atema J (1997) Shelter sharing and chemical courtship signals in the lobster Homarus americanus. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 54:647–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bushmann PJ, Atema J (2000) Chemically mediated mate location and evaluation in the lobster, Homarus americanus. J Chem Ecol 26:883–899CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Childress MJ (2007) Comparative sociobiology of spiny lobsters. In: Duffy JE, Thiel M (eds) Evolutionary ecology of social and sexual systems: crustaceans as model organisms. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 271–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Childress MJ, Herrnkind WF (1996) The ontogeny of social behaviour among juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters. Anim Behav 51:675–687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cobb JS (1981) Behaviour of the Western Australian spiny lobster, Panulirus cygnus George, in the field and laboratory. Austr J Mar Freshwat Res 31:399–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cowan DF (1991) The role of olfaction in courtship behavior of the American lobster Homarus americanus. Biol Bull 181:402–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cowan DF, Atema J (1990) Moult staggering and serial monogamy in American lobsters, Homarus americanus. Anim Behav 39:1199–1206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cowan DF, Solow AR, Beet A (2001) Patterns in abundance and growth of juvenile lobster, Homarus americanus. Mar Freshwat Res 52:1095–1102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dixon CJ, Ahyong ST, Schram FR (2003) A new hypothesis of decapod phylogeny. Crustaceana 76:935–975CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dunham DW, Oh JW (1992) Chemical sex discrimination in the crayfish, Procambarus clarkii: role of antennules. J Chem Ecol 18:2363–2372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Eggleston DB, Lipcius RN (1992) Shelter selection by spiny lobster under variable predation risk, social conditions, and shelter size. Ecology 73:992–1011CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Eggleston DB, Lipcius RN, Miller DL, Coba-Cetina L (1990) Shelter scaling regulates survival of juvenile Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 62:79–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ferner MC, Smee DL, Chang YP (2005) Cannibalistic crabs respond to the scent of injured conspecifics: danger or dinner? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 300:193–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fielder DR (1965) A dominance order for shelter in the spiny lobster Jasus lalandei (H. Milne-Edwards). Behaviour 24:236–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gleeson RA (1980) Pheromone communication in the reproductive behavior of the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus. Mar Behav Physiol 7:119–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gosselin T, Sainte-Marie B, Bernatchez L (2005) Geographic variation of multiple paternity in the American lobster, Homarus americanus. Molec Ecol 14:1517–1525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hancock DA (1974) Attraction and avoidance in marine invertebrates – their possible role in developing an artificial bait. J Cons Int Explor Mer 35:328–331Google Scholar
  34. Hazlett BA (1994) Alarm responses in the crayfish Orconectes virilis and Orconectes propinquus. J Chem Ecol 20:1525–1535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Horner AJ, Nickles SP, Weissburg MJ, Derby CD (2006) Source and specificity of chemical cues mediating shelter preference of Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus). Biol Bull 211:128–139CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Horner AJ, Weissburg MJ, Derby CD (2008) The olfactory pathway mediates sheltering behavior of Caribbean spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus, to conspecific urine signals. J Comp Physiol A 194:243–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Huber R, Kravitz EA (1995) A quantitative analysis of agonistic behavior in juvenile American lobsters (Homarus americanus L.). Brain Behav Evol 46:72–83CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Johnson ME, Atema J (2005) The olfactory pathway for individual recognition in the American lobster Homarus americanus. J Exp Biol 208:2865–2872CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Kamiguchi Y (1972a) Mating behavior in the freshwater prawn, Palaemon paucidens. A study of the sex pheromone and its effect on males. J Fac Sci Hokkaido Univ Ser VI, Zool 18:347–355Google Scholar
  40. Kamiguchi Y (1972b) A histological study of the “sternal gland” in the female freshwater prawn, Palaemon paucidens, a possible site of origin of the sex pheromone. J Fac Sci Hokkaido Univ Ser VI, Zool 18:356–365Google Scholar
  41. Kamio M (2009) Towards identifying sex pheromones in blue crabs: using biomarker targeting within the context of evolutionary chemical ecology. Ann NY Acad Sci 1170:456–461CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Karavanich C, Atema J (1998a) Individual recognition and memory in lobster dominance. Anim Behav 56:1553–1560CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Karavanich C, Atema J (1998b) Olfactory recognition of urine signals in dominance fights between male lobster, Homarus americanus. Behaviour 135:719–730Google Scholar
  44. Karnofsky EB, Price HJ (1989) Dominance, territoriality and mating in the lobster, Homarus americanus: a mesocosm study. Mar Behav Physiol 15:101–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Katoh E, Johnson M, Breithaupt T (2008) Fighting behavior and the role of urinary signals in dominance assessment of Norway lobsters, Nephrops norvegicus. Behaviour 145:1447–1464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lipcius RN, Edwards ML, Herrnkind WF, Waterman SA (1983) In situ mating behavior of the spiny lobster Panulirus argus. J Crust Biol 3:217–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. MacDiarmid AB (1994) Cohabitation in the spiny lobster Jasus edwardsii (Hutton, 1875). Crustaceana 66:341–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Marx JM, Herrnkind WF (1985) Macroalgae (Rhodophyta: Laurencia spp.) as habitat for young juvenile spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus. Bull Mar Sci 36:423–431Google Scholar
  49. Mintz JD, Lipcius RN, Eggleston DB, Seebo MS (1994) Survival of juvenile Caribbean spiny lobster: effects of shelter size, geographic location and conspecific abundance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 112:255–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Morin TD, MacDonald CD (1984) Occurrence of the slipper lobster Scyllarides haanii in the Hawaiian archipelago. Proc Biol Soc Wash 97:404–407Google Scholar
  51. Nevitt G, Pentcheff ND, Lohmann KJ, Zimmer RK (2000) Den selection by the spiny lobster Panulirus argus: testing attraction to conspecific odors in the field. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 203:225–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Parsons DM, Eggleston DB (2005) Indirect effects of recreational fishing on behavior of the spiny lobster Panulirus argus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 303:235–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Raethke N, MacDiarmid AB, Montgomery JC (2004) The role of olfaction during mating in the southern temperate spiny lobster Jasus edwardsii. Horm Behav 46:311–318CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Ratchford SG, Eggleston DB (1998) Size- and scale-dependent chemical attraction contribute to an ontogenetic shift in sociality. Anim Behav 56:1027–1034CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Ratchford SG, Eggleston DB (2000) Temporal shift in the presence of a chemical cue contributes to a diel shift in sociality. Anim Behav 59:793–799CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Rosen E, Schwarz B, Palmer AR (2009) Smelling the difference: hermit crab responses to predatory and nonpredatory crabs. Anim Behav 78:691–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schmidt M, Ache BW (1996a) Processing of antennular input in the brain of the spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. I. Non-olfactory chemosensory and mechanosensory pathway of the lateral and median antennular neuropils. J Comp Physiol A 178:579–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schmidt M, Ache BW (1996b) Processing of antennular input in the brain of the spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. II. The olfactory pathway. J Comp Physiol A 178:605–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shabani S, Kamio M, Derby CD (2008) Spiny lobsters detect conspecific blood-borne alarm cues exclusively through olfactory sensilla. J Exp Biol 211:2600–2608CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Shabani S, Kamio M, Derby CD (2009) Spiny lobsters use urine-borne olfactory signaling and physical aggressive behaviors to influence social status of conspecifics. J Exp Biol 212:2464–2474CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Skog M (2009) Male but not female olfaction is crucial for intermolt mating in European lobsters (Homarus gammarus L.). Chem Senses 34:159–169CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Snyder MJ, Ameyaw-Akumfi C, Chang ES (1993) Sex recognition and the role of urinary cues in the lobster, Homarus americanus. Mar Behav Physiol 24:101–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Spanier E, Almog-Shtayer G (1992) Shelter preferences in the Mediterranean slipper lobster: effects of physical properties. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 164:103–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Steullet P, Dudar O, Flavus T, Zhou M, Derby CD (2001) Selective ablation of antennular sensilla on the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus suggests that dual antennular chemosensory pathways mediate odorant activation of searching and localization of food. J Exp Biol 204:4259–4269PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Steullet P, Krützfeldt DR, Hamidani G, Flavus T, Ngo V, Derby CD (2002) Dual antennular chemosensory pathways mediate odor-associative learning and odor discrimination in the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus. J Exp Biol 205:851–867PubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Tierney AJ, Thompson CS, Dunham DW (1984) Site of pheromone reception in the crayfish Orconectes propinquus (Decapoda Cambaridae). J Crust Biol 4:554–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Waddy SL, Aiken DE (1990) Intermolt insemination, an alternative mating strategy for the American lobster (Homarus americanus). Can J Fish Aquat Sci 47:2402–2406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wahle RA (1992) Body-size dependent anti-predator mechanisms of the American lobster. Oikos 65:52–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Weiss HM, Lozano-Álvarez E, Briones-Fourzán P (2008) Circadian shelter occupancy patterns and predator-prey interactions of juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters in a reef lagoon. Mar Biol 153:953–963CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wisenden BD (2000) Olfactory assessment of predation risk in the aquatic environment. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 355:1205–1208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Zimmer-Faust RK, Spanier E (1987) Gregariousness and sociality in spiny lobsters: implications for den habitation. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 195:57–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Zimmer-Faust RK, Tyre JE, Case JF (1985) Chemical attraction causing aggregation in the spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus (Randall), and its probable ecological significance. Biol Bull 169:106–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Neuroscience InstituteGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations