Horseshoe crab eggs do survive getting dug up and abused

Embryos of horseshoe crabs

When I was out on Fire Island counting mating horseshoe crabs a couple weeks ago, I picked up a cup of eggs washing around in the tide. They’re not supposed to survive, but they did. They were starting to smell in my kitchen, so I took a closer look and found embryonic horseshoe crabs inside, moving their tiny white legs around.

This is pretty neat. The eggs aren’t supposed to survive once they’re dug up. Research 700 times more scientific than mine, finds that if they are uncovered they dry out and don’t survive. It’s interesting to think people could potentially save or translocate thousands of millions of tiny horseshoe crabs that otherwise just dry out or get eaten. The crabs are in trouble, both from the usual habitat woes and because commercial fishermen use them as bait.

I took far from good care of the eggs. One night where some friends and I counted more than 2,000 mating horseshoe crabs on a quarter mile stretch of beach. The next morning we went down to flip over the horseshoe crabs that had gotten discombobulated in the mating. I noticed what looked like tons of greenish styrofoam balls floating in some waves. I figured I’d take some to see if they really were. I didn’t want to interfere with them and figured that the odds of any hatching were small.

I find that the good people of New York state always provide suitable trash for receptacles whenever you need it.  Sure enough, a Styrofoam cup was lying nearby. I scooped up a sample, intending to get more later–or figure out if we should bury them. But we were running late for the ferry, so I threw the cup into a plastic bag and took it home. I put it out on my windowsill for a week, throwing water on it once. When I finally got around to moving it into a big bowl of water with sea salt, it looked grimly non-moist. Biologists had already told me the ones on the beach can’t survive.

But my husband David is very tolerant of these experiments, so I sprayed a little bleach into the bowl to cut down on the funky high tide smell and let it go another week. Then it really started to smell. So today I decided I needed to examine the eggs and see if I should just throw them out. Some eggs looked bigger, but I doubted I really had anything. But by shining a flashlight underneath, I could see moving little legs in the eggs. says the tiny larvae eat “a variety of small polychaetes, nematodes, and nereis.” Not wanting to go shopping for that, I have to figure out how to get them back to the beach.

horseshoecrab Where to SEE HORSESHOE CRABS




horse shoe eggs

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