Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

Title: The Secret Life of Lobsters
Author: Trevor Corson
# pages: 282
Date published: 2004
Genre: Nonfiction (science)
Challenge(s): seafaring, 888 (nonfiction and trade paperback categories), personal science challenge

Setting: Maine (mostly around Little Cranberry Island and Mount Desert Island)

First Sentence: “The morning sky was glowing pink in the southeast but a chill hung in the salt air.”

Cover Blurb: In this intimate portrait of an island lobstering community and an eccentric band of renegade biologists, journalist Trevor Corson escorts the reader onto the slippery decks of fishing boats, through danger-filled scuba dives, and deep into the churning currents of the Gulf of Maine to learn about the secret undersea lives of lobsters.

In revelations from the laboratory and the sea that are by turns astonishing and humorous, the lobster proves itself to be not only a delicious meal and a sustainable resource but also an amorous master of the boudoir, a lethal boxer, and a snoopy socializer with a nose that lets it track prey and paramour alike with the skill of a bloodhound.

The Secret Life of Lobsters is a rollicking oceanic odyssey punctuated by salt spray, melted butter, and predators lurking in the murky depths.

Reason for Reading: This one has been sitting on my bookshelves for a long time. I’ve made it a personal challenge this year to read at least one science book per month. The Secret Life of Lobsters got this challenge off to a great start.

Random Thoughts: This was a fascinating book about lobster biology, the day-to-day lives of lobster fishermen (and women), and the complex science behind the conservation of a fishery. I have mostly quotes about lobster science in this review because I’m fascinated with the science, but the stories of the lobstermen and their families were equally riveting. If you think you don’t like books about science, try picking this one up—it may change your mind. And if you do like books about science, you gotta read this one!

Favorite quote: “The American lobster urinates not from some posterior region of its body, but directly out the front of its face. Two bladders inside the head hold copious amounts of urine, which the lobster squirts through a pair of muscular nozzles below its antennae. […] Quite possibly, lobsters were sensing each other and sending signals – “I beat you up last night, remember?” or “Would you like to mate with me, I’m about to get undressed?” – by pissing in each other’s faces.” (p. 196)

Fascinating tidbits: “[…] because a lobster is an invertebrate, every anatomic feature that is rigid is part of the exoskeleton, including the teeth inside the stomach that grind food. The lobster must rip out the lining of its throat, stomach, and anus before it is free of the old shell.” (p. 36)

“Snapping shrimp are essentially miniature lobsters. The snap in their name originates from their claws—they stun their prey with the sound of an air bubble popping between their snapping pincers, which clap together so quickly that they emit a flash of light.” (p. 47)

“After copulating once, an older female can produce and fertilize two entire batches of eggs without bothering to molt or mate a second time. […] veteran ladies needed a man around only once every four or five years, but they still produced eggs more often and in vastly greater quantities than their smaller counterparts.” (p. 121)

“Lobsters begin life ambidextrous, their two claws identical in shape and size. During their first year or two they start to favor either the right or left claw for crushing and the other for seizing and cutting, thus becoming either right- or left-“handed.”” (p. 128)

“With time, lobsters are able to regenerate most appendages, although they energy required to do so slows their overall growth. An eye, unfortunately, will never grow back. But other appendages may appear grotesquely in the eye’s place—an unwanted foot, for instance.” (p. 130)

Other cool stuff:

*Corson’s Web site

* Corson has come out with a new book called The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket which I’ll definitely pick up soon.

Rating: A (this book was just great, I’d highly recommend it)

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