What happens if a lobster loses a leg?

Tank and the missing leg

About a month ago, my favorite California spiny lobster at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium lost a leg. Early one morning, I went to stare at Tank (my nickname for the massive 14 pound male lobster at Cabrillo) when I realized something was awry. There was a gaping hole where one of his legs should be! Then I spotted the missing leg lying on the bottom of the tank, I really wasn’t imaging it.

Since this discovery, I have talked to several people at Cabrillo about Tank and his missing leg and learned some very interesting information. It turns out that lobsters are capable of autotomy. Remember this word from the legless lizard article? Autotomy is also referred to as reflex amputation, an animal’s ability to lose certain body parts or parts of a body in order to save itself from predators or an unfortunate situation. In the case of the legless lizard, it will drop its tail to distract predators. Lobsters are able to discard legs and antennae and still grow them back, which is also called regeneration.

During my investigation I also learned that if a lobster is caught off guard and a leg or antenna is ripped out suddenly, then it won’t grow back. A lobster must go through a certain process to release a leg or antenna to ensure the option of growing it back successfully.

As far as what happened to Tank’s leg, nobody really knows. It happened during the night when no one was at the aquarium. Speculations are that either it got caught on something or maybe the other two lobsters in the tank did something. This second theory seems very unlikely, the two other lobsters pale in comparison to Tank because they are so much smaller. We will probably never know what really happened. (If only there was a lobster cam! But maybe it’s best there isn’t one because then I would spend all day watching it.)

But will the leg grow back? Maybe. It depends on how it left, was it ripped or released? We won’t know until Tank’s next molt. Until then stay tuned. In the meantime here’s something a tad freaky to mull over, the lobsters started eating the leg that fell off. Hey don’t judge! It’s a good source of calcium…

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