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In fact it isn’t a crab at all, but an arthro- pod; its closest living relatives are ticks, spiders, and scorpions. Fossil hunters and archeologists have found their encased re- mains in many parts of the world, but just four species survive today, and only one lives along the North American coast, from Maine to the Yucatan. On a blustery May morning we arrived at our favorite Chesapeake Bay beach, antici- pating a long solitary stroll, but discovered we were not alone. As far as the eye could see, dozens of horseshoe crabs lay stranded upside down. Some were already dead, others dying, the rest struggling to right themselves. For the next hour we prodded, flipped, and carried the stranded animals back into the surf. We mourned the dead and celebrated the living, watching them slowly crawl back into the water and disap- pear beneath the waves.


For millennia, horseshoe crabs have


emerged from the shallow waters of the Atlantic to spawn. Timing varies from early spring in the Southeast to late May further north. Author Anthony Fredericks describes the spring spawning as “a family reunion on steroids”. In Delaware Bay, the epicenter of horseshoe crab spawning, volunteers for ‘Just Flip ‘Em’ assist thousands of stranded animals every spring. In New Jersey, ‘Re- turn the Favor’ encourages communities along the Jersey shore to rescue horseshoe crabs stranded on their beaches or trapped behind riprap.


For most of the year they inhabit the bot- toms of bays and shallow estuaries, feeding on worms and shellfish. But for a brief period of time they return to the beach, engaging in a mating frenzy of epic propor- tions. The flurry of activity occurs mostly at night or at dawn and dusk. Weather, water temperature, and surf conditions can have a profound effect on where and when they come ashore. The large females, some the size of dinner plates weighing upwards of ten pounds, have no lack of suitors as the smaller males attach and vie for the prize. Once a male latches onto a female, she tows him up onto the beach where she burrows into the damp sand to make her nest. Digging down four to six inches, she uses her pusher legs to create a slurry of sand and water into which she releases a clutch of eggs, which the male fertilizes. She then moves forward, depositing anoth- er clutch. Each clutch takes approximately


The House & Home Magazine 29


Rufa Red Knots gorging on horseshoe crab roe. Photo courtesy of USFWS


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