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Horseshoe Crabs

Posted on Jun 12, 2015

If you are on the Atlantic Coast during the late spring you may be fortunate enough to find Horseshoe Crabs during the breeding season. Early June, especially around a new or full moon, is a very busy time for these marine arthropods that are considering living fossils, having existed nearly unchanged for approximately 450 million years.

Horseshoe Crab Stratford Point-0006

These photos were taken at Stratford Point in Stratford, Connecticut, an important mating site at the mouth of the Housatonic River. The females will lay eggs on beaches like this one, some subsequently being eaten by migrant shorebirds. The most vivid example is that of the now federally-threatened rufa Red Knot as Horseshoe Crab eggs are at the core of their diet, and increased over-harvesting, especially in the Delmarva region, has had a direct impact on the population of the species. Horseshoe Crabs need our protection and help, and not just for the food web – even if we are concerned strictly with humans. Horseshoe Crabs play a role in our health as their blood is used for medical testing and research in detecting toxins and bacteria, and may hold additional astonishing abilities that are actively being studied.

Horseshoe Crab Stratford Point-1021

If you ever see a Horseshoe Crab flipped over like this one, help it out! You can flip the crab over to help it avoid death (and a sizable percentage die this way) from being stranded on a beach after spawning by gently picking it up by the shell. Do not pull its sensitive tail, and do not worry about injury – they will not bite, sting, or pinch you, and they cannot harm us.

Horseshoe Crab Stratford Point-1034

Here along the Connecticut coast Sacred Heart University is studying the Horseshoe Crab through Project Limulus. This effort monitors populations, helps to track individuals by tagging, seeks to better understand their biology, and works to aid the spawning process by protecting the species and educating the public. Learn more by visiting their website!

Horseshoe Crab Stratford Point-0043

While I only saw the four crabs, including the male and female above nestled in the spartina, there are many nests in the area. Let us hope we as a collective scientific community have stepped in just in time in America to protect ourselves and a major section of our marine world.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator