By Joe Reynolds
A day after brisk northerly winds battered the coast around Lower New York Bay, I came across my first live Horseshoe Crab sighting of the year. It was a good-sized, male horseshoe crab found right at the high tide line as I walked near the tip of Sandy Hook early this morning.
Scattered about the beach were numerous empty shells of deceased crabs. This was the only live crab I spotted. It must have been kicked ashore by the heavy surf. Its shell was well populated with barnacles.
Feeling a bit sorry for the ol' boy, I picked up the Horseshoe Crab by its shell and carried the crab over to bay side beach. Then I aimed him in the right direction. If all goes well, he will back beginning next weekend. This is when the Horseshoe Crab mating season begins for another year during full and new moon evening in May and June.
As spring arrives, adult Horseshoe Crabs will converge along sandy beaches throughout Lower New York Bay to mate, as they have been doing here for at least thousands of years. Horseshoe crabs are often called “living fossils,” because they have been around for approximately 450 million years.
Horseshoe Crabs are an important part of our marine ecosystem. Their eggs are a vital food source for many species of migratory shorebirds, such as the Red Knot, a tiny shorebird that winters in Chile and nests in the arctic. Many migratory shorebirds will time their stopover to rest and feed in Lower New York Bay while Horseshoe Crabs are spawning. This would mean that rather than hop scotch their way up the coast, hungry migratory shorebirds will fly thousands of miles with very few stopovers just to take advantage of fatty and energy rich crab eggs, which makes the time they spend in Lower New York Bay even more important to the survival of migratory birds and Horseshoe Crabs.
Horseshoe crabs are important to humans as well. In the biomedical industry, Horseshoe crab blood helps save human lives. Pharmaceutical companies use Horseshoe crab blood to make sure that intravenous drugs and vaccine injections are bacteria-free. Also, research into Horseshoe crab eyes has given scientists a greater knowledge of the functioning of human eyes.
I told you that Horseshoe crabs are important animals. Let's hope the little fellow I found today knows this and will be back to start another generation of crabs in the bay next weekend.