Horseshoe Crabs

The Horseshoe Crab species is an arthropod that is found in brackish water and marine habitats. This species is the only living member of the order Xiphosura, and there are four different species of Horseshoe Crabs. One species is found in North America along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Ocean while the other three can only be found in Southeast Asia. The Horseshoe Crab’s name is misleading because this species is not a true crab nor crustacean. The Horseshoe Crab is related to ticks, spiders, and scorpions more than it is to crabs. The Horseshoe Crab has been living on Earth  for 300 million years, which makes this species older than dinosaurs. The Horseshoe Crabs are preyed upon by sharks, sea turtles, humans, and seagulls.   

A horseshoe crab in its natural home

The Horseshoe Crab is more important to human life than most think, Horseshoe Crabs’ blood is $15,000 per pint. The reason their blood is so expensive is because of the role it plays in medical procedures. Every vaccine, antibiotic, and medical device has been ensured with the blood of this incredible species. The blood of this species is blue, which it gets from the copper in its system. Scientists soon realized that when a Horseshoe Crab was injured, wounded, or infected their blood would clot and gunk up. The blood does this because of the amount of Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL), a protein that causes the blood to react to dangerous toxins. This protein makes scientists able to tell dangerous forms safely, and all they have to do is expose the blood to the outside chemical and watch it react. After scientists found that Horseshoe Crab blood could identify dangerous substances, they started catching half a million crabs each year to be bled.  

Horseshoe crabs being bled in lab

Scientists need Horseshoe Crab blood to save lives, but is it hurting the innocent marine creatures? The scientists collect the Horseshoe Crab and send them off to labs to be bled. Scientists extract blood straight from a vein found near the animal’s heart using a large needle. After the whole process the Horseshoe Crab is able to return to its natural habitat in the ocean. The process of taking blood will not harm the animals long term, but, 30% of the creatures that are brought into these labs are killed, and the Horseshoe Crab population is declining because of this. In 1990, the Horseshoe crab population in Delaware Bay was 1.24 million, but now there’s only around 335,000 living today.

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