• Washington Post

Rare Lobster Found in Maine Is Two Sexes and Two Colors

Jacob Knowles
Bowie, a rare two-toned lobster with two sexes, was found recently off the Maine coast.

A rare dual-color and dual-sex lobster has become a curiosity and a sensation since being captured this month off the coast of Maine.

Internet fans have named the two-toned crustacean “Bowie,” after the late rocker David Bowie who famously blurred gender lines and had two different eye colors.

Jacob Knowles, a Maine lobsterman, said he was fascinated after his friend caught Bowie in mid-November, and he began featuring the unusual lobster in videos on his Instagram and TikTok accounts, which together have more than 3 million followers.

“This is the coolest lobster I’ve ever seen,” Knowles, 30, said in the first video he shared of Bowie. “Never seen one like it; never heard of one like it.”

People were immediately intrigued.

The colorful crustacean is split 50-50 from head to tail into halves of red and bright blue.

According to the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, split-color lobsters are about one in 50 million. These two-toned lobsters are often also gynandromorphs – an organism that has male and female characteristics – with one color displaying male traits and the other displaying female traits.

Bowie’s two sexes and two colors are genetic anomalies caused by embryo mutations.

“They can both occur separately or together,” explained Alex Ascher, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Mass. “They’re two separate conditions that are both rare.”

Despite Bowie’s multicolored shell, if the crustacean were to be cooked, “it would turn red like any other lobster,” said Ascher, explaining that lobsters (and other crustaceans) have a pigment called astaxanthin in their shells, which reacts to heat.

American lobsters, in general, are a range of colors – including shades of blue, green, brown, orange and red. A lobster’s color is determined by genetics and nutrition.

In Bowie’s case, the blue side is male, and the red side is female, Knowles said, noting that the size and stiffness of the upper swimmerets – which are abdominal limbs on crustaceans – are one indication of sex.

“That’s the most obvious,” Knowles said.

The tail, he said, is another indicator. While a female’s tail will flare out on the bottom to hold eggs, a male’s will taper in.

“You can clearly see that one side of the tail is a female and the other side is a male,” said Knowles, who is a fifth-generation lobsterman, and has been fishing since he was seven.

A few years ago, Knowles started sharing on social media snippets of his life and work. To his delight, people were captivated.

“The lobster industry in general is very old-fashioned and has overall had a pretty low presence on social media,” he said. “I think I was just able to make a connection with people.”

When he called out to his followers, asking for name suggestions for the lobster, people promptly delivered.

Although Knowles’s personal favorite was “50 Percent” – a nod to the rapper 50 Cent – TikTok users preferred someone’s idea to call the crustacean “Bowie.”

“There were a few good ones in there,” Knowles said of the name suggestions.

Scientists have also taken note of the rare find.

“This is the third one I’ve heard about in maybe the last 15 to 20 years or so,” said Christopher Tudge, a biology professor at American University who has been studying crustaceans for three decades.

“Nature is full of exceptions and weird stuff like this,” Tudge said, adding that Bowie’s condition is “still exceedingly rare.”

Knowles initially kept Bowie in a temporary cage in the ocean, but after a recent storm, he decided to move the crustacean to a large tank in his garage “to make sure the lobster stays alive,” he said. “It’s almost like a pet lobster at this point.”

“Our plan now is to keep watching it and see if it can develop eggs,” Knowles said.

Scientists say that’s highly unlikely – if not impossible.

“With this lobster, I don’t see functionally how it would be capable of self-fertilization,” Ascher said.

Female lobster eggs are fertilized when a male lobster pierces a female lobster’s abdomen and deposits his sperm, Ascher said. The female can then carry the sperm for up to two years, and she decides when to fertilize her eggs using the sperm.

Bowie’s eggs could, in theory, get fertilized with the help of another lobster, but even if that were to happen, Bowie would likely still shed those eggs.

“It might be possible, but it is very unlikely for a gynandromorph to successfully reproduce,” Ascher said.

Still, Knowles is excited to see what Bowie’s future holds. He said he plans to eventually place the lobster at an aquarium or back in the wild.

And, of course, he will continue to chronicle the lobster’s tale online, so fans can stay in the loop.

“I think ongoing stories that people can follow are refreshing,” Knowles said. “I knew people would find it interesting.”