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thrusts into the sand. Beach strandings, like the one we wit- nessed, are nature’s number one killer of adult horseshoe crabs. Underneath, two small pincers serve as feeding grippers. Next comes five pairs of walking legs. The back pair is tipped with fanlike structures that aid in burrowing. In the young and in females, the other four pairs of legs end in claws for holding food. In males, the first two legs are tipped with special claws called claspers, which are used to hold onto females during mat- ing. Unlike blue crabs with formidable claws, the horseshoe crab cannot pinch.


Between the legs is a slit that is the horseshoe crab’s mouth. Like fish, they breathe with gills. Each of the ten gills holds stacks of tissue that resemble book pages. To breathe, it flaps its gills, forcing water past the pages, forcing oxygen in the water to pass through the gills and into its bloodstream. Its ten eyes are multifaceted, but researchers stress these eyes “see” in different ways than our own. Two eyes underneath and five on top don’t see images per say, but can sense light and dark. Its two noticeable compound eyes detect movement and shapes in shades of black and white. Some eyes sense ultraviolet light and a group of photoreceptors line the telsons, allowing the crab to “see” behind. Its most remarkable feature however, is its blue blood. If you have ever been hospitalized, had surgery, been to a medical clinic, received an injection, take a prescription drug, use contact lenses, or had stitches and are alive and well, you have the horse- shoe crab to thank. In the 1960s, researchers discovered that when marine bac- teria were injected into the bloodstream of the North American


Horseshoe crab fossil


The House & Home Magazine


31


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