With fossils dating back to nearly 350 million years ago, it’s hard to believe that our favorite shoreline friends were once crawling across the oceans floor the same time dinosaurs were around. These sea creatures have adapted to their ecosystems over the eons and still remained ultimately unchanged.
Their flexible exoskeleton (made of chitin) has acted as an unscathed armor which has resulted in survival where even the mightiest dinosaurs of have been wiped out due to major events causing extinction.
In late spring and early summer (May and June) horseshoe crabs arrive on the beaches during the high tides of full and new moons to lay their eggs – this is when the water rises highest on the beach. When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she crawls up to the high water line on the beach with a male attached to her. The male clasps onto the female’s shell with a modified pair of claws and the female drags him around during the spawning process. In addition to the attached male, several other males may also attempt to fertilize the female’s eggs by arranging themselves on and around the spawning couple during the egg- laying process. A female may have five or more males attempting to mate with her in a single egg-laying episode. On the beach, the female crab partially buries herself into the sand while she deposits a cluster of about 4,000 tiny green eggs— in an evening of egg laying, a female crab can lay several egg clusters and may spawn repeatedly over several nights to lay 100,000 or more eggs.
Horseshoe crabs have a hard shell– they must molt to grow. A horseshoe crab will molt at least six times in their first year of life and about 18 times before they reach sexual maturity. Females are generally larger than males and may molt more than males to reach the larger size. Once they are sexually mature (which takes at least nine years) they won’t have to shed their shells ever again. When a male crab completes his final molt, his first set of claws modify into a boxer-glove shape which he uses to clasp onto the female for spawning. Adult crabs may live another eight to 10 years, making the total lifespan of a horseshoe crab as long 20 years.
- Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs and are instead more closely related to spiders and scorpions.