Above: A North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher volunteer points
out the unique physical characteristics of a horseshoe crab to a
young visitor. Left: Females lay tens of thousands of blue-green eggs
during spawning season, but migratory seabirds eat most of them.
Rules and regulations were placed on the harvesting of horseshoe
crabs to slow the decline.
“There is a panel of marine fisheries along the East Coast
that monitors their populations and regulates when they’re
taken for medical use and used as bait in lobster fisheries, so
they regulate how many you can take for bait purposes,” Gould
says. “They are trying to make sure they don’t turn into an
endangered species and that we don’t deplete them too far.”
That’s important not just for their role in human health, but
because of their place in the ecosystem.
“They are a predator for worms and clams, so they kind of
control that population,” Gould says. “They are then eaten by
sharks and turtles, and if you love sea turtles and you love
sharks, then you know they need food. Horseshoe crabs’
eggs are providing a food source for birds and lots of other
animals out there, so if they disappear, then we see this big
imbalance in the ecosystem.”
Female horseshoe crabs can lay 100,000 eggs during spawn-ing
season, but the odds are against them hatching and sur-viving.
Only a couple of that number make it to adulthood,
Gould says. Most are eaten by migratory seabirds.
The habitat for the American horseshoe crab extends from
Mexico to Maine.
“Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland. That’s where you see the
highest concentration,” Gould says.
The best chance of seeing them locally is to go to the
These creatures are a unique and essential species. Their
oddities make them special, and their medical and ecological
role make them irreplaceable.
“They are really important components of the ecosystem that
should be left alone,” Pawlik says.
WBM september 2018
COURTESY OF N.C. AQUARIUM AT FORT FISHER
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE NORTHEAST REGION