Posted by: Kirsten | Friday, 23 May 2008

The Most Ancient of Spawning Festivals

Tonight, as the moon waxes full and the tide creeps in a little higher than usual, horseshoe crabs on the Delaware Bay will do what they’ve always done this time of year — for the past, oh 300 million years or so, long before Delaware Bay ever came to be.  As the females make their way toward terra firma, one or more males will latch onto their tow hook and ride their temporary girlfriend all the way into shore.  Sometimes more males latch on in a silly looking version of a crab conga line, but the female has her sights set on the sand up ahead and doesn’t let something like five straggler males get in her way.

In the morning, as the tide slides back out to sea, thousands of shore birds — Red Knots, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderlings all show up for the morning breakfast call.  The Red Knots in particular are another fascinating story, as they’ve travelled from the southern tip of South America — exhausted and hungry, timing their northern migration to arrive on Delaware Bay just when the crabs are laying their eggs.  Normally the eggs are buried too deep for the birds, but the sheer number of crabs burying eggs tends to unearth some of the other crabs’ eggs, so there’s plenty up for grabs.  The Red Knots will double their body weight before continuing their journey to the Arctic.

Horseshoe crabs aren’t really crabs at all, but are more closely related to spiders.  A long time ago they had more living relatives such as the trilobites you’ve probably seen in a fossil display at a museum.

Well, gotta hit the sack early tonight and get up before dawn to be there around sun-up.  Hopefully will have pictures to share upon our return. 

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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