25 May 2010

Horseshoe Crabs

How do PBS documentaries always find the most obscure topics and bring them right back to home? For example, the other day I saw a documentary entitled: "Crash: A Tale of Two Species." I knew what a horseshoe crab was, but I didn't know that they were so cool. They also seem to get quite a bit of abuse from humans.

 Early Americans first discovered them. They used the entire animal body, just like they usually found uses for an entire buffalo carcass. Native Americans ate the meat, used the shell for fertilizing their crops and to dish water out of their canoes, and used the tail as a spear.

In the 1800s, horseshoe crabs were used as crop fertilizer. This is when their population numbers started to go down. Farmers harvested 4 million a year for several years. The 1960s brought artificial fertilizers, so most farmers stopped using the crabs as fertilizer.

But that wasn't the end of their human use. Today, horseshoe crabs are used in biomedical research. Some of them are used in research ensuring that human medicines are free of harmful bacteria. They are also used as eel bait, but scientists are researching what makes the crab so appetizing to the eel. Their meat is still quite popular in Japan. Horseshoe crab population numbers have continued to go down after the over- harvesting in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Human activity on the east coast of the United States have also caused their numbers to go down. This animal may only seem useful to humans, but it has quite a few jobs in nature. If you are interested, read about their relationship with the red- knot shorebird.

The part of the documentary that got me was when they showed the horseshoe crabs in a biomedical lab. In the lab, workers take the crabs out of big, plastic totes and strap them onto this conveyor belt contraption. Their tails are bent under them so that a main blood vessel is easily reached. The workers just slapped the crabs up there, strapped them in, and stuck a needle in them. The documentary said these animals have been around for about 350 million years, but that doesn't mean humans can jerk them around.

In the beginning, people were given the job to name animals and take care of them. Note the take care of them part. Why don't we still take care of the animals? When were we told to mistreat them? Sure the horseshoe crab blood may have a lot of human uses, but why can't we research them in a more gentle fashion? They aren't even harmful to humans out in the wild.
If I ever have the pleasure of meeting a horseshoe crab, I will probably just take its picture and leave it alone.

1 comment:

  1. Thats very interesting about the horseshoe crabs! Us humans are SO narcissistic and cruel to other living creatures, it's very sad :(

    You are right, who the heck are we to do as we please with these creatures?!

    A few weeks ago P.O.V. showed Food Inc., that was the first time in a while I watched PBS special...that's one of my fav documentaries and I HAD to get everyone I know to tape it!