Fiddling With Lobsters

Lobsters use sound to frighten predators

08-01-2001 // Mark Cheater

Crustaceans aren’t usually thought of as musicians, but it turns out that some lobsters make sounds using the natural equivalent of a violin. Sheila Patek, a graduate student at Duke University in North Carolina, discovered that Caribbean spiny lobsters create noises by rubbing part of their antennae over filelike structures near their eyes. Unlike crickets, which make sounds by scraping parts of their exoskeleton together, the lobsters’ instruments are made of soft tissue and follow the same principles as those used by human violinists. Scientists have never seen this type of soft-tissue "playing" before, notes Patek. Top-40 music it’s not; the lobsters’ fiddling produces something akin to the sound of a finger rubbed across a balloon. Since spiny lobsters lack claws to defend themselves and cannot hear beyond short distances, their playing probably serves to startle predators. "If you were reaching down to pick up a sandwich and it squeaked, you might pause," Patek says.

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