Posted by Bailey Kaufman | 11.30.2023 | Conservation, Marine Science, Sea Turtle Camp

Horseshoe Crabs: Ancient Wonders, Modern Conservation

Horseshoe crabs, often referred to as “living fossils,” are ancient marine arthropods that have gracefully navigated the world’s oceans for over 450 million years.

Despite their name, these creatures are not true crabs; instead, they belong to a unique subphylum known as Chelicerata. Recognizable by their distinctive horseshoe-shaped carapace (hard outer shell), long spiked tail, and ten legs, horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to crustaceans. Interesting, right?

Found along the Atlantic coasts of North America and the Gulf of Mexico, horseshoe crabs play a crucial ecological role. Their eggs are a vital food source for migratory shorebirds during their long journeys, and their blue blood contains a substance called Limulus amebocyte lysate, which is instrumental in detecting bacterial contamination in medical applications.

Despite their resilience, horseshoe crab populations face threats from habitat loss and over harvesting for their blood. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensuring the survival of these ancient and ecologically significant creatures.

Always bear in mind that if you encounter a horseshoe crab overturned, refrain from lifting it by its tail. The tail is delicate and can break easily, and regrettably, it doesn’t regenerate once broken. Given its vital role in their survival, as they use it as a tool when flipped over, it’s important to handle them with care.

If you ever need to transport a horseshoe crab, hold the hard shell as you would cradle a bowl of soup. These creatures lack actual claws, making them entirely harmless. Offering them assistance in this gentle manner is something they will likely appreciate!