Now through the month of June, visitors to Maryland’s beaches can expect an astonishing sight — millions of horseshoe crabs will make their annual pilgrimage from the Atlantic Ocean to local shores.
Dating back at least 350 million years, it’s one of the largest spawning events of horseshoe crabs in the world, according to a release from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, when the May and June full and new moons foster the arthropods’ journey. Coming from the depths of the ocean, millions of these prehistoric animals clumsily invade the beaches of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries for this ritualistic spawn, laying their eggs on shore.
To ensure the horseshoe crab has a chance of survival, beachgoers can do their part in helping protect this valuable species. Anyone who spots a horseshoe crab flipped on its back is asked to gently flip the crab over so it can return to the wild. The best practice for flipping over a horseshoe crab is to pick it up by its sides, not by its tail. While the horseshoe crab may look menacing, they are actually very gentle creatures and do not bite, according to DNR.
While this month’s full moon has already occurred, a prime time to see them is during the high tides of the June 17 full moon.
Every year during this time, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources conducts a horseshoe crab migration survey.
“This event has significant ecological impacts not just for future generations of horseshoe crabs, but for other species up and down the coast,” DNR fisheries biologist Steven Doctor, who leads the yearly survey, said in the release.
Horseshoe crab eggs are a source of food for fauna, birds, and fish. While horseshoe crabs are not eaten, its copper-based blood has been found to be a vital resource in medical products and research.
According to DNR, during the spawning period an individual horseshoe crab could lay nearly 20,000 eggs on Maryland’s beaches.