Shell disease is a problem affecting lobsters in eastern Long Island Sound causing disfiguration of the shell, decreasing the lobsters' value, and whereas mild and medium levels of the disease are not lethal, ultimately, severe cases result in mortality. Levels of the molting hormone, ecdysone, were quantitated, using a radioimmunoassay (RIA), in hemolymph of animals exhibiting shell disease. Our results indicate that levels of ecdysone were increased in the hemolymph of shell-diseased lobsters, with a medium level of expression of the disease to 89 +/- 32 ng/mL (n = 76), whereas unaffected, presumably healthy ones had 57 +/- 16 ng/mL (n = 2 10). In 7 of 10 months of the year shell-diseased animals had higher ecdysone levels in their hemolymph than unaffected animals. In addition, ecdysone levels were abnormally high, 165 +/- 53 ng/mL (n = 5), in shell-diseased ovigerous lobsters, whereas normal unaffected ovigerous ones had low levels of this hormone, 13 +/- 4 ng/mL (n = 7). These results indicate that shell disease may induce lobsters to alter the systemic levels of ecdysone, possibly serving as a defensive measure, allowing the animals to ward off the effects of shell disease through induced molting.