I remember reading somewhere that upon arrival in Hispaniola, Columbus found beaches that were so plentiful with lobsters that they appeared red. It is possible I read this in a book by Bill Bryson, either "at home" or "a short history of nearly everything". Does this sound right? Does anyone have an actual reference?

  • 19
    Lobsters are normally not red. They become red only when one boils them. I suppose the person who wrote this has only seen boiled lobsters in his life:-)
    – Alex
    Jan 13 '21 at 22:49
  • 3
    @Alex: And AFAIK lobsters generally don't come out of the water voluntarily. But lobster was plentiful in New England coastal areas during colonial times, so much so that there are references to it being fed only to poor people & prisoners.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 14 '21 at 4:30
  • 2
    This is one of the reasons why sources are important. Were the beaches red? where the crustaceans red? Was the author of the quote plausibly authoritative? Was it written by a crank, a zealot? What was the author's motivation? What was the author's source material? I recognize and respect that you've tried to provide some sources, but without better sources, the application of historical sources and methods will have limited utility. Kind of like trying to bake a pie with the memory of flour and water - culinary science will be helpless.
    – MCW
    Jan 14 '21 at 14:09
  • 1
    The only reference Columbus' journal makes about crabs is on November, 17th when writing about a river he said "Halló [...] cangrejos grandísimos" ("He found [there]... very large crabs"). Jan 14 '21 at 17:50
  • 1
    My dad told me that when he was a boy in the 1930's in a sleepy town on the South Shore of Massachussets Bay you could pick up lobsters on the beach... but he didn't do it himself, "only the Portuguese ate them"!
    – AllInOne
    Jan 14 '21 at 18:15

Adding to what @Alex said "typical" lobsters (i.e., the lobsters that humans eat and the ones that turn red when you cook them) don't even extend as far south as Hispaniola. They are a cold-water species and based on available range data for H. americanus don't even extend southward of North Carolina.

Distribution of American lobster (Homerus americanus), from Wikipedia) Distribution of American lobster (Homerus americanus), from Wikipedia

enter image description here (Panulirus argus, Caribbean spiny lobster)

There are crustaceans referred to as "lobsters" in the Caribbean region, and they are red, so your reference might have been talking about them, but they aren't true lobsters, they belong to a different group of crustaceans (Palinuridae, the "spiny lobsters", versus the true lobsters in Nephropidae.


I very strongly doubt that, growing up in the Caribbean. The type of lobsters found there are neither red nor at all capable of getting out of the water.

At most you'll seem skim-walk on sandy bottoms, as they don't really swim either. You'd have to be coming onto a beach in which lots of them congregated in shallow enough water to be seen from topside and appear to cover the sand. And even then, they wouldn't be on the beach.

Land crabs? Maybe.

Those lobsters do migrate in groups, so an occasional sighting of a big group, underwater, is possible.

I'll chalk this up to the kind of strict adherence to facts that resulted in maps adorned with dragons and mermaids.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.