Monday, 29 March 2010 09:00 AM
This spring, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute need help from the public to identify horseshoe crab spawning beaches throughout the state.
The best time to find spawning horseshoe crabs is around high tide, just before, during or after a full moon. The full moon conditions around March 30 and April 28 will create good conditions for viewing the spawning behavior of horseshoe crabs.
The FWC asks beachgoers to report the number of horseshoe crabs they see and whether the horseshoe crabs are mating. Mating crabs “pair up,” with the smaller male on top of the larger female. Other male crabs may be present around the couple. Biologists also want to know the date, time, location, habitat type and environmental conditions, such as tides and moon phase. If possible, specify roughly how many are coupled and how many are juveniles (4 inches wide or smaller).
Citizens can report sightings through one of several convenient options. Go to http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/crustaceans/horseshoe-crabs/documenting-beaches/ and fill out an online survey; e-mail findings to horseshoe@MyFWC.com; or call the FWC at 866-252-9326.
Fossil records indicate horseshoe crabs first appeared 450 million years ago and have remained virtually unchanged since. The species is an important part of marine ecosystems; their eggs are a vital food source for animals and birds, such as the red knot.
Horseshoe crabs are important to humans as well. For instance, in the biomedical industry, horseshoe crab blood helps save human lives. Pharmaceutical companies use horseshoe crab blood to ensure intravenous drugs and vaccine injections are bacteria-free. Scientists have found that no other test is quite as reliable as horseshoe crab blood, which clots in the presence of infectious bacteria. Also, research into horseshoe crab eyes has given scientists a greater knowledge of the functioning of human eyes.