(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, January 28, 1996)
I am pleased to report that the scientific community has finally stopped wasting time on the origins of the universe and started dealing with the important question, which is: Are lobsters really just big insects?
I have always maintained that they are. I personally see no significant difference between a lobster and, say, a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach, which is a type of cockroach that grows to approximately the size of William Howard Taft (1857-1930). If a group of diners were sitting in a nice restaurant, and the waiter were to bring them each a freshly killed, steaming-hot Madagascar hissing cockroach, they would not put on silly bibs and eat it with butter. No, they would run, retching, directly from the restaurant to the All-Nite Drive-Thru Lawsuit Center. And yet these very same people will pay $24.95 apiece to eat a lobster, despite the fact that it displays all three of the classic biological characteristics of an insect, namely:
1. It has way more legs than necessary. 2. There is no way you would ever pet it. 3. It does not respond to simple commands such as "Here, boy!"
I do not eat lobsters, although I once had a close call. I was visiting my good friends Tom and Pat Schroth, who live in Maine (state motto: "Cold, But Damp"). Being generous and hospitable people, Tom and Pat went out and purchased, as a special treat for me, the largest lobster in the history of the Atlantic Ocean, a lobster that had probably been responsible for sinking many commercial vessels before it was finally apprehended by nuclear submarines. This lobster was big enough to feed a coastal Maine village for a year, and there it was, sprawling all over my plate, with scary insectoid legs and eyeballs shooting out in all directions, while Tom and Pat, my gracious hosts, smiled happily at me, waiting for me to put this thing in my mouth.
Remember when you were a child, and your mom wouldn't let you leave the dinner table until you ate all your Brussels sprouts, and so you took your fork and mashed them into smaller and smaller pieces in hopes of eventually reducing them to individual Brussels-sprout molecules that would be absorbed into the atmosphere and disappear? That was similar to the approach I took with the giant lobster.
"Mmmm-MMMM!" I said, hacking away at the thing on my plate and, when nobody was looking, concealing the pieces under my dinner roll, in the salad, in my napkin, anywhere I could find.
Tom and Pat: I love you dearly, and if you should ever have an electrical problem that turns out to be caused by a seven-pound wad of old lobster pieces stuffed into the dining-room wall socket, I am truly sorry.
Anyway, my point is that lobsters have long been suspected, by me at least, of being closet insects, which is why I was very pleased recently when my alert journalism colleague Steve Doig referred me to an Associated Press article concerning a discovery by scientists at the University of Wisconsin. The article, headlined GENE LINKS SPIDERS AND FLIES TO LOBSTERS, states that not only do lobsters, flies, spiders, millipedes, etc., contain the exact same gene, but they also are all descended from a single common ancestor: Howard Stern.
No, seriously, the article states that the ancestor "probably was a wormlike creature." Yum! Fetch the melted butter!