The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

Spurn not the nobly born

Here's how you count horseshoe crabs for science. First you put on shoes you don't mind getting wet, and then you take the special science square, which is called a quadrat, and walk along the waterline for a certain number of paces, and then stop and hold out the quadrat and count the crabs you see in the square. As you do this, you try to figure out how many are male and how many are female. They're fairly easy to tell apart. First, the females are much bigger -- they have to be, in order to hold up to 120,000 eggs each. Second, the males have special gripping claws on their front legs. They look like boxing gloves and are used to grab the female's shell. Third, females tend to be more sedate, digging down into the sand and letting the males come to them. The males are the ones cruising around in the shallows, looking like Pac-Man ghosts because their legs are not visible from above. This is because horseshoe shells are like oversize helmets, and because of this they remind me, I find, of the Soldier from the video game Team Fortress 2:

I have done nothing but count horseshoe crabs for three days.

When the females bury themselves they'll generally be swamped by several males, and sometimes you'll see a big old pile of horseshoes, the topmost one's tail waving above the surface like a flag on a mountain peak. But sometimes a female will do a little cruising in the shallows herself, generally with one male clinging to the back of her shell with his specially adapted claws. Either way, though, the females are very busy, so we tagged mostly males. These guys were indeed trying to make it with rocks, and if you waded out with your quadrat they'd cruise up to see if they could make it with your feet. You'd think something with ten eyes would be able to tell a human foot from a female of his species; maybe they can ordinarily but at this time of year are dazed with lust, or whatever horseshoe crabs experience instead of lust -- because of course they don't copulate, they breed like fish, the female popping out thousands of eggs and the males hurrying to fertilize them. There is a tremendous urgency at work, though, and you might as well call it lust, why not? It certainly looks pornographic, all these piles of crabs, their shells making obscene clattering noises as they scramble all over each other. That they look like something designed by Swiss pervert H. R. Giger contributes to the effect.

This is a good brief video that includes the quadrat, the obscene clattering noises, the medical use of the horseshoe crab's copper-based blood, and even a glimpse of a tag on a horseshoe's left "cheek" -- the triangular bit of the front part of the shell, past the hinge. (That's where you put the tag, though I don't know why there's a standard spot.) I was assured that drilling a hole in the shell didn't hurt the crab, but it did produce a trickle of that strange and precious blue blood each time. This made me think of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe:

Spurn not the nobly born
With love affected,
Nor treat with virtuous scorn
The well connected.
High rank involves no shame --
We boast an equal claim
With him of humble name
To be respected!
Blue blood! Blue blood!
When virtuous love is sought,
Thy power is naught,
Though dating from the Flood,
Blue blood!

Though of course the blue blood of the horseshoe crab, being 450 million years old, dates from considerably before the Flood -- from considerably before almost everything. Life was still figuring stuff out back then, which is presumably why it came up with an animal whose eyes seem to have been put on with a Bedazzler.
Tags: animals, ernest hemingway, horseshoe crabs, stix
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded