The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies only the tri-spine horseshoe crab, which is found along the coasts of India, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, as endangered out of the four species of horseshoe crab that are still alive today (IUCN). The American horseshoe crab, which inhabits the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of the United States, is categorized as Vulnerable.
The number of American horseshoe crabs has decreased by 90% over the past 15 years, according to the annual Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Survey, which involves community scientists counting crabs at 23 beaches along the shores of Delaware and New Jersey (home to the largest population of horseshoe crabs in the world). In a sizable percentage of the species’ range, the IUCN predicts that the current tri-spine horseshoe population will decline by more than half during the next 60 years.
Horseshoe crabs play a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystems that they are native to, and have for hundreds of millions of years. Since their spawning frequently coincides with migration patterns, for instance, their eggs offer food for hundreds of species of shorebirds. Given that a female horseshoe crab may lay over 10,000 eggs over the course of several nights, the balance is difficult. Additionally, a variety of creatures, including barnacles, mussels, and sponges, adhere to and live on their shells.
Horseshoe crabs play important roles in biodiversity in nature and have positive effects on human health, but they also serve as an important historical connection in evolutionary theory.
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