Lobster Cannibalism: Why Are Maine Crustaceans Turning On One Other? [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 25, 2013 11:40 AM EDT

lobster fly
In Maine, lobsters have been resorting to cannibalism. Researchers say it's the first time that lobster cannibalism has been observed in the wild. (Photo: Reuters)

Lobster cannibalism has been observed in crustacean populations for the first time ever in the wild, say researchers in Maine.

While lobsters have been known to attack one another in confined spaces, which is the reason why their claws are tied shut in fish tanks, scientists have never actually observed lobster cannibalism in nature.

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In Maine, the lobster population has exploded in recent years due to increasingly warm water and a lack of predators. Lobster's predators, like cod and herring, have been overfished in the area, so there are few animals left to keep the lobster population in check.

"We've got the lobsters feeding back on themselves just because they're so abundant," said Richard Wahle, a University of Maine professor who is studying Maine's lobster population and first observed the lobster cannibalism. "It's never been observed just out in the open like this."

Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student studying with Wahle, has been documenting the lobster cannibalism using infrared cameras that observe lobsters on the ocean floor. He noticed that during the day, fish snack on juvenile lobsters, which is normal, but then at night, things get weird.

"The population of lobsters in Maine has skyrocketed and there have been some interesting changes in abundance, demographics and, we believe, behavior," said Oppenheim. "Eight out of nine times at night, predation is due to cannibalism."

Wahle said that the lobster cannibalism doesn't seem to be a Maine phenomenon, either. He cited researchers in Canada who have found evidence of lobsters cannibalism in the wild by studying the inside of lobster stomachs.

"There are these cases where encounters with each other are becoming so frequent, they result in more than just a bit of competition but in a predator-prey interaction," Wahle said.

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