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Rise in horseshoe crabs not an issue
A walk on the beach in the Golden Isles often includes finding a horseshoe crab or two, or their abandoned shells in the sand.

Sometimes, as in recent weeks, there seem to be more of them on the beach than usual. But a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says it is not a cause for concern.

"Unless there are multiple dozens to 100 in a small area, finding horseshoe crabs is really not an issue," Jim Page said.

Like every living thing, horseshoe crabs eventually die. When winds change direction and tides become higher than normal, as they have been, crab corpses will be left behind on the beach, Page said. Tidal ranges recently have been as high as 9 feet.

"These tides are probably as big as we will see all month," he said.

While horseshoe crabs on the beach may not incite much excitement for residents who are used to seeing them, tourists are often enamored by the sea creatures, Page said.

"They are pretty cool little critters," he said. "Fossil history shows they really have not changed much in thousands of years."

Not every shell spotted on the beach is the result of a dead crab. Horseshoe crabs molt, Page said, shedding their shells to make way for new, larger ones as they grow.

The only time live crabs are found on the beach is in the spring, when they are spawning, he said.

Horseshoe crab populations along the East Coast are stable and remain fairly strong, Page said. That is a good thing because, ecologically speaking, the crabs may be more important than many people realize. As migrating birds make their way north in spring, they look to vibrant coastal areas for food. Horseshoe crab eggs provide much of that food source, Page said.

"Migrating birds, like red knots, often stop to refuel along the coast," he said. "Horseshoe crabs are very important in that regard."

They have uses for humans as well, he added. Pharmaceutical companies look to the crab's blood for testing to see how aspects of a certain drug will react when it enters the blood stream, he said.

"They will actually use the blood to test for impurities in new drugs," he said.

Around 25 to 30 percent of a crab's blood can be taken without harming it, Page said.



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