Atlantic Horseshoe Crab
For the past couple months, hubby and I have been living it up on Beachstreet U.S.A,Virginia Beach - consider it an extended honeymoon courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Originally from Montreal, imagine the culture shock moving from bustling city to beach getaway. Do not weep for me, I adapted quite rapidly to this new way of life. Besides frequent visits to Oceanfront yoga (there is nothing like gazing out towards the ocean in warrior II), my favorite activity is taking a walk along the beach. If we're lucky we can see all sorts of things from pods of dolphins to flocks of pelicans not to mention crabs, clams, mites and what not. I'm ecstatic to see all these creatures that I have studied in books or out of glass jars filled with formaldehyde.
Connecting with the David Attenborough within in, I will calmly but enthousiastically tell you all about my latest sighting, the horseshoe crab. It's a living fossil. They have been around since the Triassic and haven't changed much since then. They are more closely related to spiders than they are to crabs, even though their name indicates otherwise. My favorite word associated to this species is the telson, the scientific name for it's tail.
Physically the male and female look the same. You can tell them apart by size, the female is larger, and by looking at the end of the first leg, males have boxing glove like claspers to allow them to hold onto the female when mating. The first one I found was propably a female because of the absence of claspers. It's genitalia and gills where missing so I'm guessing they were eaten, most probably by a seagull or some other scavenger. I've been watching Bones a lot lately, it's influenced the way I look at the world. If I wasn't so squirmish about blood and death, I'd like to be a forensic scientist, determining cause of death, age and sex and what not. I'll stick to non-human or anything non-fleshy, that leaves me things with exosqueletons and plants. Let's continue.
I found two other horseshoe crab remains a little further down the beach. From the size difference (and wishful thinking), I might have found a female and a male but neither of them had legs, well there wasn't much left of the bigger one actually, so I can't be sure. I was excited, it's the biggest one I've ever seen. I sketched my estimate of the size in the sand. They are proportional creatures, the head or prosoma is generally the same length as the abdomen or opisthosoma and the telson tail is generally the length of the body. They can grow to 60cm (24") tail included, the female being 25-30 percent bigger. The big one I found was probably over 45cm (3 times the length of my pen).
Interesting fact about horseshoe crabs, their blood is blue. Instead of having iron based blood like humans, they have copper-based blood.When the blood is oxygenated it turns blue when it's not it's colourless. Their mouth is located under their bodies between the legs, they have nine eyes and light sensitive organs along their tail. Speaking of their tail or telson, they use it to swim but also to flip themselves over if they get stuck on their back, that's one up on the turtle.
I found someone that likes horseshoe crabs so much he got a scientific tattoo of one on his back to proove it. Check it out for yourself by clicking here.
I'll simply express my admiration by keeping a look out for horsehoe crabs along the beach and maybe, just maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get to see a live one. Fingers crossed.