Photo by Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures
Here’s a clever way to show how little the horseshoe crab has changed in over 200 million years. This digital composition pairs a fossil on the left with a living animal on the right.
Horseshoe crabs date back to the Triassic times when the first dinosaurs appeared on earth. They are found along the Atlantic coast spending summers in shallow coastal waters and winters offshore in the mud. Like lobsters they shed their outer shells to grow. The soft shell underneath hardens in about 12 hours. They have four eyes – two small, simple eyes up front and two larger compound eyes on either side of their shell. Their blood contains copper rather than hemoglobin thus giving it a true blue color. Researchers are using horseshoe crab blood to study bacteria.
Unfortunately, this ancient animal is in danger of becoming extinct. Their most vulnerable period is during the new moon in May and June when they come ashore to breed. They fall prey to capture as eel bait, for blood research or by people who throw the animals up on the high beach leaving them to die in the hot sun.
Maybe it’s time we protected these living fossils to keep them around the next generation.