Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions

Tagging my First Horseshoe Crab

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I have never tagged a horseshoe crab. This is strange because I work to protect horseshoe crabs, advocate for reducing the harvest of horseshoe crabs, and personally think they are just the coolest crab there is. So, here we are in June—the mating season of the horseshoe crab. The time when, sometimes hundreds of crabs, will crawl up on the beach, when the moon is full and the tide is high to lay their eggs. These eggs will then become the main food for migrating shorebirds, such as the endangered red knot. The perfect time to tag a horseshoe crab.

So, I got home from work and asked my three year old daughter if she wanted to go look for horseshoe crabs at the beach.

“Can I touch the crabs?”

“Yes.”

“Can I snuggle with the crabs?”

“Ummm, I don’t think crabs like to snuggle.”

“Ok, I’ll go.”

We drove down to Captree State Park and met Enrico Nardone, President, Seatuck Environmental. He is charged with tagging and counting the horseshoe crabs on this 1,000 feet stretch of bay beach. We noted the water visibility (2 meters), wind speed (15mph), and tried unsuccessfully to  take the water temperature. Then we walked the beach to search for the crabs.

Enrico noted that last full moon/high tide, they counted 163 crabs. Tonight, the strong winds were creating rough waves in the bay—not ideal for the mating crabs.

Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) or “living fossils,” have been in existence for over 350 million years, which means they were around before the dinosaurs! Horseshoe crabs have a large, dark brown shell with five pairs of legs, five pairs of gills, a spike-like tail, and bump-like eyes. Female horseshoe crabs are larger than males and can reach a total length of two feet, including the tail. Although referred to as “crabs” they are Arthropods – more closely related to spiders than to real crustaceans such as shrimp, lobsters, and crabs.

Yet, increased harvesting of the crabs has reduced the population and threatens migratory birds that depend on crab’s eggs for food. Programs, such as the one run by Seatuck Environmental, help to monitor the populations of the crabs. The tags help to track the patterns of the crabs.

Halfway through our walk we spotted a turned over horseshoe crab! We picked it up, measured it, noted it was a male, and yes—I helped to tag my first horseshoe crab! Oh, and don’t worry, my daughter also got to touch her first horseshoe crab.

Although, we noted a few other crabs in the deeper water, we were not able to tag them. It wasn’t the 163 crabs that they saw last high tide full moon—but I can now say I officially tagged a horseshoe crab. Till next full moon…..

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One Comment

  1. Deb
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I have lots of dead horseshoe crabs on the beach I walk on the north shore. Why is tagging the ones on their backs useful? I always thought those were dead with many with their bodies eaten out by seagulls.

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