Save This Animal's Life With a Simple Act -- It May Help Save Your Own

Save This Animal's Life With a Simple Act -- It May Help Save Your Own

Former SCDNR marine educator Emily Foy holds a horseshoe crab before a 2016 survey. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

Former SCDNR marine educator Emily Foy holds a horseshoe crab before a 2016 survey. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

Now is the season when you’re most likely to see an especially ancient marvel of the animal kingdom on South Carolina beaches.

Under the full and new moons, horseshoe crabs are scuttling ashore en masse. The ancestors of these creatures, more closely related to scorpions than true crabs, have come aground to mate and lay their eggs since before the dawn of the dinosaurs.

Their tiny, fat-rich green eggs sustain entire populations of shorebirds on their annual migrations northward. And their thick blue blood impacts humans lives every day, used to test for bacterial contamination in every vaccine injected and medical device implanted.

But the horseshoe crab needs your help, too. Studies estimate that around 10% of breeding crabs may die each year after becoming stranded on beaches, pushed upside down by waves.  Horseshoe crabs can survive for a time out of water as long as their gills remain wet, but the heat of a sunny day can quickly dry out and kill an upside-down crab.

Rough weather strands many crabs on the beach each year. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

Rough weather strands many crabs on the beach each year. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

By simply flipping stranded horseshoe crabs you encounter on the beach, you can help ensure the continued survival of these amazing animals.

Their armored bodies, spiked tails, and many legs may look frightening, but carefully handled horseshoe crabs are harmless to humans. Their tails are used for uprighting themselves rather than defense, and they cannot sting. They do not bite, and unlike many true crabs, their small pincers are weak and unable to break skin.

How to Flip a Horseshoe Crab

1.     Grab the animal around the edges of the shelled head. Never pick up a horseshoe crab by its tail! This can harm the animal and damage its ability to flip itself over in the future.

(Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

(Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

2.    Gently pick the animal up and place it on the beach so that its legs are on the sand. You can further help by placing it close to or in the water.

This crab is facing right-side up. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

This crab is facing right-side up. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

That's it! You've just saved a horseshoe crab.

Former SCDNR biologist Amy Fowler demonstrates how to hold and flip a stranded horseshoe crab at the SC Aquarium in 2016. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

Former SCDNR biologist Amy Fowler demonstrates how to hold and flip a stranded horseshoe crab at the SC Aquarium in 2016. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

Learn More

Get the scoop on what it’s like to join SCDNR biologists on a night-time horseshoe crab survey.

Curious about these unusual-looking creatures? Share your horseshoe crab questions below.

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