Lobsters avoid their sick neighbors

Scientists have discovered that Caribbean spiny lobsters, a social animal, do their best to stay the hell away from others that are sick. Biologist Mark Butler of Old Dominion University and his colleagues noticed that while healthy spiny lobsters spend their days in large groups, sick animals are left alone. It makes evolutionary sense, Butler told the New York Times, but "it's not common." The scientists ran experiments in the lab and published their findings in the journal Nature. From the NYT:

When healthy lobsters were given a choice in a lab setting between an empty den and one with a sick lobster, they chose the empty den. Further studies showed that healthy lobsters avoided sick ones weeks before there were visible symptoms and before the sick lobsters became infectious. That's a good thing, Dr. Butler said, because if lobsters catch the virus "they're pretty much goners." He said the healthy lobsters probably detected chemical cues released by the sick ones.

The finding has implications for conservation, as the lobster habitat is being diminished by humans. "If you're wiping out the housing market, so to speak, now you have animals constrained and forced together," Dr. Butler said. Healthy lobsters may have no choice but to mingle with sick ones, raising the risk that the disease will be transmitted.

Link (Thanks, Kate Wing!)