Imagine you’re walking on the beach when you see a massive spider-like creature emerging from the water and crawling toward you across the sand. Sounds like something out of a monster movie, right? But this ancient chelicerate (that is, member of the arthropod subphylum Chelicerata, which also includes spiders, scorpions, and mites) is harmless, if bizarre.
I found this fellow (or lady?) on the beach this afternoon while on the phone with a friend – because we get better cell phone reception on the beach than at the center, I often walk down there to make calls. Not wanting to tell my friend “hey, I have to hang up so I can photograph this horseshoe crab,” I proceeded to try and use my little camera with one hand while holding my cell phone in the other. Here’s one I took with my foot for scale…
It was low tide, and the big critter’s track began a few feet away from what was then the edge of the waves, so I figured it must have been stranded on the beach by the retreat of the tide. (As far as I know it’s too early for them to be coming out to lay eggs or anything.) So after I got some photos I slipped my free hand under the edge of its carapace and carried it, legs waggling frantically, back out into the water. I got my pants soaked up to my knees in the process, but oh well – I think my friend was pretty amused by my narrating all this as it was happening. Kids often seem to think that horshoe crabs’ long, pointed tails contain a stinger like a ray’s, but they have neither sting nor pinchers. And like I mentioned before, they’re not really a crab at all but a prehistoric cousin of the spider.
This was only about the fifth live one I’ve found on the beach since moving here, but I suspect it’s going to happen more and more often as spring goes on, especially once their breeding season gets started. Fine with me, they’re incredibly cool animals to have around!