Remarkable “Marine Spider”
While not universally famous like Spider-Man, there’s another sort of superhero on planet earth today. Saving lives around the world, in fact. And this creature can sometimes be seen at the beach, a type of “marine spider.” So valuable to mankind, its blue blood is reportedly worth a whopping $60,000 a gallon.
Odd-looking, but often ignored by beach goers, most know this seashore superhero as the horseshoe crab. But, they’re not true crabs. They’re arthropods, more closely related to spiders, scorpions and ticks.
Nationally, the average price of a gallon of gas — something we need to get around — is $2.25, according to AAA. However, horseshoe crab blood — something else we also depend upon (more than most know) — reportedly sells for around $60,000 a gallon. Why so much? Because there’s something extraordinary about the horseshoe crab’s blood, besides its blue hue, used in the biomedical industry. Mankind around the globe relies on it.
Hundreds of millions of people, many whom have never seen a horseshoe crab, have been protected by a substance in horseshoe crab blood (LAL — limulus amebocyte lysate). Horseshoe crab blood is used to test potential contamination during the manufacture of what goes in our bodies. LAL clots when certain bacterial toxins are present. Anyone who has ever had an injection, (who hasn’t, really?), is an unwitting benefactor. This means those who have had a shot — medicine and vaccines — plus IV drips. And those who have had surgery, people with implanted devices such as knee replacements, artificial hips or a pin holding a broken bone, for example.
Take a look at this fascinating video by Charles River Laboratories:
Fort Clinch Program
Here on Amelia Island, a horseshoe crab monitoring program was initiated in 2018 with volunteers observing, tagging and recording data at Fort Clinch State Park.
Citizen Science Project
The Fort Clinch project is part of a much bigger effort statewide. Florida needs much more data on horseshoe crabs. The FWRI and the University of Florida began a citizen science program a few years ago to train volunteers to assist in monitoring horseshoe crab population in the state of Florida. Watch this video below to learn more about what’s entailed in the monitoring program, especially if you may be interested in participating as a volunteer.
Birds Depend On Them
The crabs are not just important to people. Birds depend on the species for sustenance. The eggs of horseshoe crabs are a main source of food for migratory birds, particularly Red Knots. The eggs are “tiny, pearly, green or pink,” according to NOAA Fisheries. Read related article, “Horseshoe Crabs: Managing A Resource For Birds, Bait and Blood.”
More often than not, horseshoe crab shells (the hard exoskeleton) are what local beachcombers see washed up along the shoreline. To grow, the crab molts its shell. However, if you see Florida horseshoe crabs spawning (or tagged horseshoe crabs), the state wants to record the sightings.
How do you know if they’re spawning? If you have observed two or more connected together, report it! Pictured below are spawning crabs seen at Fort Clinch.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Horseshoe crabs can nest year-round in Florida, with peak spawning occurring in the spring and fall. When mating, the smaller male crab attaches himself to the top of the larger female’s shell by using his specialized front claws, and together they crawl to the beach… Most of this nesting activity takes place during high tides around the time of a new or full moon.”
To report sightings of spawning crabs, go to the “Florida Horseshoe Crab Spawning Beach Survey” link. The FWC Reporter app is free to download on Apple or Android smartphones or tablets from the App Store and Google Play. You can also report findings via email to: [email protected] or by phone at 866-252-9326.
There are isolated areas in the USA with heavy concentrations of the crabs. The Delaware Bay region has the highest population of horseshoe crabs in the world, and this is a key harvest area. Unfortunately, there’s a cost to the species. While estimates vary, somewhere between 15% to perhaps 30% of the crabs don’t survive long-term after the blood extraction process.
The “Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Horseshoe Crab Fisheries Management Plan” went into effect about 18 years ago. Management practices led to decreased harvesting of the crabs over time. While back in the late 1990s, over 2 million horseshoe crabs were harvested annually, the harvest has been reduced in more recent years. About half a million were harvested in the year 2018.
To learn much more about the amazing horseshoe crab, also visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page with more facts about this species.
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