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What is a Horseshoe Crab?

Nevada was once largely covered in water, which is why the state’s fossil is a prehistoric marine animal called an Ichthyosaur (genus Shonisaurus). These days Nevada is much drier but, here at the Museum, we strive to educate our community about as many marine life creatures as possible because roughly 71% of the Earth’s surface is still covered by water.

The big blue world down below is full of many fascinating creatures. Featured in our large 3000 gallon tank in the middle of our Marine Life Gallery, the Horseshoe Crab can easily be identified by its hard exoskeleton body, 10 legs, and scurrying below the swimming stingrays and sharks in the tank.

These prehistoric looking creatures are even older than dinosaurs due to their 300 million year existence. Contrary to their name, these animals are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than crabs. They are quite unique for their many strange features. For example, they have a total of 9 eyes, found all over the body, with light receptors towards the end of their body. They have 3 main components to their body: head, abdomen, and tail. This species has had millions of years to adapt and form specific features such as a sturdy tail to help flip it back right side up if a current or wave has flipped them over, and spines along its abdomen to protect their muscles and gills.

Why are Horseshoe Crabs important?

Horseshoe Crabs have unique blue copper based blood that contains Lysate, which is used in the pharmaceutical world to help create vaccines for diseases like COVID-19. Lysate is used because of its natural reaction to clot together when put together with bacterial toxins. More recently, a synthetic version of their blood has been made to stop the practice of harvesting the animals for this purpose. But, the pharmaceutical industry is only slowly starting to begin using this alternative.

Although the species isn’t considered an endangered one, like many other marine life species they suffer from habitat loss due to beach developments that hampers their breeding. With a legacy of 300 million years behind the Horseshoe Crabs we see today, it’s clear to see that they truly are a living fossil!

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