Having joined the Anne Arundel County Bird Club this spring, I’ve been learning so much about the bird and birding world. One of their most popular field trips is to head to the Northern Chesapeake Bay in the middle of May to see migrating birds and horseshoe crabs congregate on the shores of Delaware and New Jersey.
As I was just returning from my journey in Peru, I was unable to make their field trip. A little disappointed that I was unable to see horseshoe crabs, I vowed that I would make their field trip next year. But lo and behold, one of the club members posted this week reports of sightings of Horseshoe Crabs on a nearby beach park.
Getting up at dawn, I headed over to Sandy Point Park which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I was hoping that I’d be able to see some Horseshoe Crabs, and as soon as I walked to the shore’s edge I was happily greeted by shallow lumps in the surf. These creatures absolutely amaze me. Their original shape and form has stood the test of time and are considered to be living dinosaurs. As the shark, these sea animals have evolved very little over the 250 million years of their existence.
This time of year, the females come to the surf’s edge, while the males pile on top in hopes of fertilizing her thousands of eggs laid into the sand. The older a Horseshoe Crab is, the more barnacles and algae grows on their shells. With their helmet like shells, they move faster in the water than I had expected.
One of the most shocking things that I’ve learned about the Horseshoe Crab is that their blood is blue and is highly sought after in the medical field. A quart of their blue blood can go for up to $15,000 per quart! There are those who make a living farming their blood by collecting them in the waters and bringing them to specially designed medical facilities. These facilities clean and sterilize the animal prior to bleeding them. The animal is then returned to its salty home to recover.
The Horseshoe Crab is also essential for the survival of a bird called the Red Knot. The Red Knot migrates over 9,300 miles from southern South America to the northern Artic, making it one of the longest migratory trips in the aviary world. The Horseshoe Crab eggs that they eat in Delaware Bay is a crucial refueling stop along their long journey.
Along the way, I came across this poor Horseshoe Crab. His tail had been snapped at the end and was unable to flip over on his own. After a few photos, I turned him right side up, and he quickly wandered back into the surf.
It was such a lovely and peaceful morning at Sandy Point Park, walking along the surf and seeing these Horseshoe Crabs going about their business. These quiet and prehistoric creatures are more vital for our survival than one would ever know.