Monitoring Horseshoe Crab Breeding with NYC Audubon

On Friday, June 9, the MSNH joined NYC Audubon in their annual survey of horseshoe crab breeding in Jamaica Bay. The weather was perfect on this full moon night and as the sky darkened we saw lots of male horseshoe crabs come in with the tide searching the shallow waters for females. We witnessed several males trying to latch onto a single female hoping to externally fertilize her eggs. We were lucky enough to see some eggs in the sand which looked like beautiful tiny green marbles. We also saved a sea robin which had been abandoned on the beach by nearby fishermen and released it back into the water where it fanned out its dragon like fins. NYC Audubon's annual horseshoe crab survey is crucial for monitoring the population of these magnificent ancient arthropods, which are in decline due to overharvesting for medical and fishing purposes. A special thank you to Dottie, NYC Audubon and to all participants for such a wonderful event!

Horseshoe crabs, despite their name and superficial resemblance, are not crabs. They actually belong to their own class Xiphosura in Chelicerata, an arthropod group that also includes the classes Arachnida (spiders, scorpions, ticks, etc), Eurypterida (the extinct sea scorpions and also MSNH's logo taxon), and Pycnogonida (sea spiders). Worldwide only four extant species of horseshoe crabs exist and all species except the Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, are found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Extinct horseshoe crab species have also been described and the oldest fossil, found in Canada, dates to the Upper Ordovician, 445 million years ago! Despite their remarkable old age, horseshoe crabs have changed little morphologically since their first appearance and are therefore often referred to as 'living fossils' in the scientific literature. To learn more about horseshoe crabs, check out our taxon of the month for April!

To learn more about horseshoe crab breeding, check out research by Dr. H. Jane Brockmann at the University of Florida.  

To view more photos from this event, check out here. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.