The internet was taken by storm this past summer when Cheddar, a one-in-30-million orange lobster, was found and rescued by staff at a Red Lobster in Hollywood, Fla. Named after one of the restaurant's most beloved treats — Cheddar Bay Biscuits — this bright crustacean and the story of her rescue brought attention to a rare abnormality in the species ... or so people thought.
Just a few weeks later, at a Red Lobster in Meridian, Miss., another rare orange lobster was found and rescued. Named Biscuit, the creature created even more interest in orange lobsters and left fans with questions about just how rare these crustaceans really are.
Upon discovering each lobster, Red Lobster partnered with Ripley's Entertainment to find safe new homes for Cheddar and Biscuit. Each was taken to a nearby marine science research center operated by Ripley's-owned aquariums, where they could live their life away from harmful prey that might be attracted to their bright orange exterior, and be studied in hopes of finally gaining some insight into the odd phenomenon.
In August 2022, Biscuit had just reached her new home at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, where the team surmised that her pigmentation, and that of Cheddar, may have been caused by something the lobsters had ingested.
"Orange lobsters are uncommon but perhaps not as rare as we first thought," Jared Durrett, director of husbandry at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, shared in a press release. At the time, Durrett explained that, "lobsters obtain their color through the pigments they ingest in their diet."
"If these orange lobsters are being harvested from the same region, perhaps the localized diet contains a pigment that, when paired with the lobster's genetics, creates the orange coloration we are seeing," he hypothesized.
Months later, the teams across Ripley's aquariums have dug deeper into what could be causing the lobsters' bright hue. "Lobster shells have three layers and each layer is a different color," Stacia White, director of husbandry at Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, where Cheddar was taken after her rescue, tells Yahoo Life. "There is a yellow, a red and a blue layer."
"Typically when a lobster is the normal brown color, it means all three layers of the shell are being seen in a normal state," says White. "Color morphs come from one of those layers being either expressed (the process by which a gene gets turned on in a cell to make ribonucleic acid and proteins) more or one layer not being expressed enough."
White shares that, for example, if a lobster appears orange, observers are seeing the yellow and red shell layers, but not the blue.
She believes diet may play some role in the expression of a lobster's shell layers, as depending on what lobsters eat, different proteins could be absorbed that allow different shell colors to show through more than others. Still, she says these viral stories have created more questions that still need answers.
"With the increase in social media and news reports of different color morphs, I believe it has allowed us to start asking more questions about the rarity and cause," says White. "We are currently working on obtaining data on where these orange lobsters may be caught. We may find out certain color morphs are more common in certain areas versus others."
So what is life like for Cheddar and Biscuit since the rescues? Rescued animals brought to Ripley's aquariums go through a quarantine process before going on exhibit. This allows for any parasites or diseases to be cured or taken care of before the animal is introduced to its new exhibit mates.
After spending some time at Ripley's Aquariums Marine Science Research Centers under quarantine, both lobsters were cleared and moved to exhibits in their respective aquariums on September 25, which happened to be National Lobster Day.
And it's a good thing, because the little lobsters have gained so much attention that fans have not only traveled to see them, but have also created merchandise to show their love for the brightly-hued creatures.
Cheddar now spends her days hiding and sleeping in her tank at Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, and Biscuit can be found in her new home at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. While fans now have a chance to enjoy these lovable creatures daily just by visiting the aquariums, the husbandry team looks forward to the insights they may still provide.
"It will be interesting in the future to see how this increase in awareness can improve the knowledge and the research being done on American lobsters," says White.
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