5 Hard-Shelled Facts About Horseshoe Crabs
The plodding sea creatures have weird blood, weirder swimming habits, and a secret weapon that’s probably saved your life.
1. HORSESHOE CRABS ARE INCREDIBLY OLD.
Discovered in 2008, the 25 millimeter-wide Lunataspis aurora crawled over Manitoba 445 million years ago. This makes it the world’s oldest-known horseshoe crab.
Four species are with us today, all of which closely resemble their long-extinct ancestors.
Supposedly frozen in time, horseshoe crabs are often hailed as “living fossils” by the media.
Yet, appearances can be misleading. Evolution didn’t really leave these invertebrates behind. They’ve transformed quite a bit over the past half-billion years.
For instance, some prehistoric species had limbs that split out into two branches, but today’s specimens have only one.
2. THEY’RE NOT CRABS.
In fact, they aren’t even crustaceans. Unlike real crabs and their kin, horseshoe “crabs” lack antennae.
So, where do the strange ocean-dwellers belong on the arthropod family tree? Biologists classify them as chelicerates, a subphylum that also includes arachnids.
Members possess two main body segments and a pair of unique, pincer-like feeding appendages called chelicerae.
3. EACH ONE HAS A HUGE ARRAY OF SIGHT ORGANS.
Large compound eyes rest on the sides of their shells. Come mating season, these bean-shaped units help amorous crabs locate a partner. Behind each one, there’s a small, primitive photoreceptor called a lateral eye.
Towards the front of the shell are two tiny median eyes and a single endoparietal eye. On its underside, a horseshoe has two “ventral eyes,” which presumably help it navigate while swimming.
4. BABIES CAN SWIM UPSIDE DOWN.
Walking around on the ocean floor is generally how horseshoe crabs get from point A to point B.
Nevertheless, young ones will often flip over and start propelling themselves through the water, using their gills as extra paddles. With age, they do this less frequently.
5. THE SPIKED TAIL HAS SEVERAL USES.
Stinging isn’t one of them, despite what many falsely believe. Among its uses are assuming rudder duties and helping the arthropod right itself after getting stuck on its back.
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