Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 1, pp 113–119 | Cite as

Astaxanthin deposition in the cuticle of juvenile American lobster (Homarus americanus): implications for phenotypic and genotypic coloration

  • M. TlustyEmail author
  • C. Hyland
Research Article


The phenotypic brownish-green color of an American lobster (Homarus americanus Milne-Edwards, 1837) is determined by genetic and dietary mechanisms. Diet influences color through the carotenoid astaxanthin. This pigment can appear red or blue depending if it is bound to protein, and the relative amounts of each form influence lobster color. Carotenoprotein formation was examined in sibling American lobsters rendered white by a diet low in astaxanthin, by feeding a diet containing 0, 55, 110, or 220 μg astaxanthin g−1 for 110 days beginning on 7 February 2004. The relative levels of red and blue in these lobsters were assessed through the analysis of digital photographs of the lobsters, which were taken monthly. The red/blue ratio was used to assess if free (red) or protein-bound astaxanthin (blue) was the dominant form in the lobsters, or if the two forms occurred in ratios allowing for natural coloration. Naturally colored lobsters developed only in the highest astaxanthin diet group, while lobsters fed the 55-μg diet were blue. Differences were observed among different parts of the body, and were presumed to be a function of cuticle thickness. However, within each diet treatment, some lobsters initially became red, suggesting an accumulation of free astaxanthin, while other lobsters initially became blue, suggesting an accumulation of protein-bound astaxanthin. This variation may be a result of differences in the uptake of astaxanthin, the rate of carotenoid-protein complexing, or in the total amount of protein available for binding. This variability is likely to be the key to understanding the underlying basis of genetically determined color in American lobsters.


Carotenoid Diet Treatment Astaxanthin Abdominal Segment Body Location 
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We thank S.DeVito for comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. Numerous volunteers cared for the lobsters, and we thank them all. All lobsters were cared for in accordance with New England Aquarium Animal Care and Use Committee guidelines. This work was partially funded by an equipment grant from the Northeast Massachusetts Aquaculture Center. Comments by two anonymous reviewers greatly improved a draft of this manuscript. The authors declare they have no financial or other compensatory relationship with Aquafauna Bio-Marine.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New England AquariumBostonUSA

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