I recently had the great fortune to deal with those kind individuals who help you move all your earthly possessions to another part of the globe. U-HAUL has a neat little program of ignoring how much stress you are under and creating more annoyances for you to deal with. But, they can be forgiven for their extemporaneous (and large) decals they smear on the sides of there water resistant (not water-proof) trucks. These include all kinds of Americana facts, many have great places to visit, sightseeing, famous happenings, etc. We got the one featuring the Hagerman Fossil Site in Idaho. There are others however and one that got me thinking of something to share with the world at large is that of the Horseshoe crab: how it’s magical blood is helping the pharmaceutical companies test their products, and how it has been around since at least the second day of creation. (I made that up) But these guys have been around for at least 300 million years generally not giving a damn about human beings for most of that time.
Generally humans gave little damns about them as well. Fishermen use them as bait when fishing for conch, but other than that, they remained as black and white photos decorating your local Red Lobster. However, once tests were run on the copper based blood (ours, and pretty much everything else’s is an iron based red, except that royal family in the movie Stardust, they apparently bleed blue as well), some scientist got the vapors. The extremely primitive immune system of the crab works in an extremely simple manner: if the animal receives an injury or a cut and bacteria or some other toxins attempt to infiltrate the animal, the blood congeals and forms a gelatinous barrier that protects the crab from infection. Think about that the next time you eat grape jell-o. So now scientists, and pharmacuticalists, and other interested ists “harvest” horseshoe crabs (obviously they are related to wheat?) drain about 1/3 of their blood and return them to the wild to be caught by those same conch fishermen before. Studies guess that there is only a 10% mortality rate for the blood donors, but who really knows. I mean, 100% of the ones used as bait expire. So, do they carry donor cards and have fishermen release them until their 30 day replenishing is up? Doubtful. But that is the sacrifice they make, bloodletting to help a species that has only been around a fraction of their species’ time on this planet.
Maybe we should blame the sand piper birds, after all they are the ones that fly in and devour millions of horseshoe crap eggs ever year at the annual horseshoe crab beach orgy. This has even been shown around National Geographic and Planet something narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Interestingly enough, there is a new book out about these guys written by retired paleontologist Richard Fortey. Put it on your summer reading list, read it at the beach and then tell your kids about how awesome that leggy writhing beach rock with a sharp tale actually is, and make sure to bring some blue jell-o.