#103: Lobster Flipping and Targeting

If you have been following our blog, you should be familiar with the training term "target" (if you need a refresher, check out the definition) and how we use it to train the marine mammals here at the Aquarium. Some of you may also remember that we are using a target to train some of the other animals at the Aquarium, including lungfish, lumpfish, frogs, and Myrtle the green sea turtle. Well now there's another animal we can add to the list ... lobsters!

Now I understand if you are wondering why we would want to train a lobster to target; we get that question a lot. As Justin previously explained, we were tasked to see if we could train the lobsters a behavior, then test how well they remember it over time. The results may be able to give us more information on a lobster's brain power.

Over the past few months, I have tried a number of approaches with this lobster, most of which involved trying to capture a behavior he was already doing. Here I am waiting for him to flip over on his back, which several of the lobsters did on their own before we started working with them. At first I wasn't having much success getting a particular behavior to happen with any regularity. However, I was learning a lot about this individual lobster: the best way to approach him, how to feed him, how he seemed to experience things. While I am certainly not a lobster expert by any means, learning all of these different things gave me a better appreciation for what might work best for us. Once I started training a "target" station with him, things moved more smoothly.

You can partially see him flipping over in this video:

One challenge was figuring out the best sized object to use as a target--what may seem small enough to me could be very large to my lobster (he is, after all, only a few inches long). I tried a few objects and had the best success with a small shell glued to a stick (below).

Now check out this video of him targeting the shell:

The first time I put the shell in the water, the lobster's inquisitive nature brought him over to investigate, but he stopped a bit short, a bit unsure of the situation. You'll notice though, as I introduce some food just beside the shell, the lobster comes all the way over and, while he is eating, checks out the shell a bit. His concerns must have been alleviated, because a few minutes later, I put the shell in again and this time he didn't hesitate at all. He came right over and I was able to feed him after he touched it.

Since we started this last week, he has come right over to the shell every time it was placed in the water! We have our first "test" ahead of us ... my lobster recently molted and for a few days after they are more concerned with staying safe and expanding their new soft shell than anything else. This time off will give us an opportunity to see just how much he remembers. Will he still associate the shell target on a stick with food?




  1. I'm a huge fan of training animals that seem unlikely candidates. I find the lobster training AMAZING!!

    I'm glad you didn't give up on the lobster when you didn't have instant success.

    I look forward to seeing more videos and posts about the lobster in the future! Maybe one day Blondie and the lobster can be tank mates?

  2. how awesome! I've done a bit of training with my goldfish.

    I think most people greatly underestimate the capability of many animals to learn. Most people can't believe that fish can be trained at all. Animals are much smarter than we often give them credit for.

    I am enjoying reading through this blog so far. (I found your site through the R2 fish school blog.) I think it's great that aquariums and zoos are making more of an effort to share their research and training with the public. I'll definitely add you to my RSS feed and my blogroll.


    Mary H.
    http://stalecheerios.com/blog-- a serial for positive animal training

  3. This is really cool. I trained my wild hare to target as well, and he stands on his hind legs on signal. What I find frustrating is that he's often not in the mood to come talk to me at all. He wants to hide a lot. I don't think there's a way to overcome this natural tendency. Do lobsters sometimes just not want to play ball besides when they are moulting?

  4. Fun Lobster Video to watch. I wonder what the aquarium uses for filtration? Maybe a Protein Skimmer


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