Crab? Spider? Sea Monster?

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!

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9 thoughts on “Crab? Spider? Sea Monster?”

  1. Awesomely awesome! When I first saw a live one of these (in the US, as we have only fossil ones in Oz), I regressed 50 years and started leaping up and down and squealing. I have that reaction when I see a creature I’ve always wanted to. My friend from Cape Town, South Africa, did the same thing when she saw a mob of red-necked wallabies in my front yard.

  2. Just was showing a friend photos of JI (congrats, your blog is my source since I was always overly protective of my camera and refused to take it anywhere, I fail!) – and came across this post again. I was just looking at a massive gallery of science related tattoos and you’d be shocked just how many people have tattoos of horseshoe crabs!

    1. No one really eats them in the U.S. – there’s not really much meat there. (I think they do eat them in Asia.) They’re used for bait sometimes, though, and their eggs are an important food source for shorebirds, and their blood actually has pharmaceutical uses.

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