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The Horseshoe Crab Experience
For many years, the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) was on a path to extinction. Misnamed a “crab” since they are actually related to arthropods, these prehistoric creatures were once only thought of as an angler’s nuisance and were ultimately killed for either eel bait or fertilizer in the United States.
Today the crabs are lauded as their blood is used in an assay that detects endotoxins from Gram-negative bacteria that can be found in vaccines and other injectable drugs. The blue blood is processed into a component of the LAL (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate) Assay and used by pharmaceuticals companies. The crabs are not killed for this blood; on the contrary, they are protected by the U.S. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and local environmental agencies.
In the late spring, sensing the tides and using the light from the moon, the crabs come to the shores of east coast beaches in the United States and Yucatan Peninsula to spawn. Unfortunately, not all of the crabs make it back to the ocean and could be left stranded on their backside on the beach – only to desiccate and perish if they are not flipped and returned to the water.
In 1998, the Ecological Research & Development Group (ERDG) launched the “Just Flip ‘em!TM” program in order to help the stragglers get back to the ocean. During the annual Lonza Endotoxin Testing Summit, the attendees travel to Pickering Beach in Delaware to assist with this program. Folks from around the globe that have never seen or touched a horseshoe crab now have the opportunity to learn about them from Glenn Gauvry (ERDG President) and can participate in the crab flipping. 2019 marks the fifth year anniversary of the Lonza Endotoxin Testing Summit.