For an animal that is less than two feet in length, the horseshoe crab plays a shockingly vital role in their ecosystems–in some regions, they’re even a keystone species. These little critters have been around for more than 300 million years, which means they roamed the earth with dinosaurs and actually predate them, which, in our opinion, is pretty cool!
These 10-legged creatures are closely related to spiders and scorpions and migrate from coastal beaches to the depths of the ocean floor as they develop. They feed on algae, worms, and clams, and various species of the horseshoe crab can be found all over the world.
And while that all sounds relatively standard for a marine invertebrate, these crabs are far from ordinary.
What sets them apart is actually the role they play in our lives.
Sounds strange, right? Well, the truth is: it is–we rely upon their blood!
Horseshoe crab blood actually has some pretty impressive antibacterial properties. Their stunning bright blue blood gets its color from the copper-based hemocyanin they use to transport oxygen. Humans use iron. And when we have an infection that needs fighting, our white blood cells spring into action. For the horseshoe crab, amebocytes do the job.
Where do the crabs come in? Well, humans have found a way to use their amebocytes to help test for bacterial contamination, like e. coli.
Learn more about these incredible animals and the science behind their blood in the video below.
L.D. and her eleven-year-old lab, Eleanor Rigby Fitzgerald, moved from Seattle to Grand Rapids earlier this year, and are currently enjoying exploring their new city! She likes books, music, movies, running, and being outdoors as much as possible.