Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague Island information guide
Horseshoe crab

Horseshoe crabs can be found along Assateague Island's miles of unspoiled beach and inland bays during your summer vacation . During spring, horseshoe crabs move onto Assateague's beaches to mate and lay their eggs. They prefer beach areas that are located within protected coves or bays because of the calm water. Horseshoe crabs are most abundant between the Atlantic coastal areas of Virginia and New Jersey.

Many shorebirds returning from their wintering areas in South America stop along Assateague's shores to enjoy eating the horseshoe crab's eggs. These migratory birds rely on the eggs during the trip to Canadian breeding grounds. The eggs provide food for sandpipers, gulls, sanderlings, and hundreds of thousands of shorebirds (at least 20 species of shorebirds). Horseshoe crab eggs are also a preferred food for flounder, trout, silversides, crabs, and whelk.

Horseshoe Crabs inhabited the earth 100 million years before Dinosaurs. Their fossils data back 300 million years. Horseshoe crabs are closer related to spiders than crabs and have several pairs of eyes. The horseshoe crab feeds mostly on razor clams and other shellfish as well as marine worms. They shed their shell in order to grow and can live to 18 years of age.

The species located in Japan is now protected and has been declared endangered. The blood of the horseshoe crabs is used to test new medicines for the presence of harmful bacteria. The horseshoe crab has been around many years, however during this century their numbers have been threatened due to over harvesting them for fertilizer and bait for commercial fishing. Coastal Native Americans once used horseshoe crab tails to tip their fishing spears and the shells for bowls.

(Limulus polyphemus)

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