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Horseshoe crabs are landing – the spawn is on

The ancient arachnid is on the rebound – so why isn’t the bird that depends upon it?

One limulus made it to shore in mid-May to spawn. The females lay thousands of eggs and males follow behind to fertilize them.

Andy Nelson – Staff

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There are the Limulus polyphemus and the people who love them, this for reasons hardly obvious, for they are an ugly lot. Only their name is beautiful.

But love is blind and the horseshoe crab, the common name for the limulus, is not: it has 10 eyes, the better to see down in the deep murk of the Delaware Bay, and to poke above the surface when the tide is high, the moon full, and the beach bright with its light.

At such incandescent moments during the year, but especially in the late spring, they advance upon the bay’s many beaches like an invading army, bobbing landward under their green, helmetlike shells. It’s spawning time and before it is all over each female crab, up to 250,000 on a peak night, will have deposited as many as 20,000 eggs in the sand, with the males following behind, fertilizing them.

It is a tender mating ceremony on a beach, which coincidentally has something of a reputation as a lovers’ lane or “party beach” for young people in these rural parts. For the horseshoe, which is not actually a crab, rather a member of the arachnid clan that includes spiders and scorpions, this is a gambit to assure the perpetuation of a creature that has crawled up through the depths of Earth’s narrative. Its ancestors were here before there were dinosaurs, flying insects, flowers, and, of course, humans.

The limulus is found in Maine, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Japan, and the Delaware Bay, which supports the world’s largest population.


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