Right about this time of year everyone gets a little worried about the horseshoe crabs. They see dozens, even hundreds, of what appear to be dead horseshoe crabs washed up on the beach.
They might see them lined up in a wrack line, tossed about in piles of seaweed or just a few here and there as the tide recedes.
As disturbing as this may seem, it’s perfectly normal for all these old shells, which are the outgrown exoskeletons of the horseshoe crabs to wash ashore. The horseshoe crabs are growing fine new shells that will accommodate their growing bodies. As a friend of mine likes to say, these are sheds, not deads!
It’s the time of year when birds are molting feathers, mammals are molting summer coats and animals that have exoskeletons may be molting as well. This is why we are seeing all those crab shells on the shore and in the marshes as well. Pick one up. If it is as light as a feather, it’s a molt. If it is heavy and stinky, it is indeed a dead animal so don’t take that one home. One of the things that fools people is that the sheds have legs, gills and all those important parts. When the crab leaves its shell it takes its actual legs, gills and other parts with it but leaves the old coverings behind. It’s pretty amazing when you stop to think how a horseshoe crab crawls out of its old shell and yet leaves it intact!
So, if you’re walking the beach this weekend, don’t be surprised to find lots of horseshoe crab shells washed up. This shows that there’s a good population in your area and that’s a good thing for the horseshoe crabs, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent years. And pass the word along when you can….there are a lot of worried people out there thinking that hundreds of horseshoe crabs have died instead of just having molted their shells.
Enjoy the long weekend and get outside!