Paleozoic nightmare
June 11, 2012 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Horseshoe crab serial killer nonsense. Theories please

Was out drinking from around 1030pm onwards this Saturday in the small town of West Chester, PA. While out, we saw at least 2 individual horseshoe crabs dead in the middle of the road, looking to have been squashed by cars. Indeed we saw several cars run over one of them while we watched from a bar's roof. Was this the cause of death? No idea.

Another witness claimed to have seen at least 2 himself, on the other side of town. Things I know about horseshoe crabs: 1. scary 2. valuable blood 3. do not live in cities

Why would these crabs be so far from the wetlands/ocean? Is there a prank involving these? Best guess is some sort of perverted horseshoe crab crush-fetishist. Curiosity is driving me insane.
posted by MangyCarface to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sucked up from the ocean by a waterspout or something like that?
posted by troika at 6:40 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I may ask...are you sure they were horseshoe crabs? Because through a (drunken nighttime) squint, squished snapping turtles have a not dissimilar silhouette (sorry, not-so-grisly roadkill image; don't click if you don't like flattened critters); June in Pa. is high mating time for them, and I've recently seen several trying to cross the road.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:41 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Horseshoe crabs aren't very lightweight, is my immediate reaction to the animal rain hypothesis; also, weather history says last rainfall was last weekend.

I like the headless turtle idea, except I know my horseshoe crabs, and the ones I saw definitely were horseshoe crabs (eyes on exoskeleton, >4 legs, rigid tail etc.)
posted by MangyCarface at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2012

Googling around about this curiosity, I learned that:

1. Delaware Bay (not far away) has the world's largest population of horseshoe crabs.

2. West Chester University has a marine science program. (and of course it's the end of the school year...)
posted by jon1270 at 6:50 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's possible they escaped/fell off from a truck or some place where someone was keeping them. They might have already been dead and were being transported for scientific reasons.
posted by royalsong at 6:52 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did you see their squishy remains or just their shells? I've found shells before when I've been on the beach, and I've seen some people take their shells home.

(I'm an inlander and thought they were crazy when I first saw one.)
posted by shortyJBot at 7:02 AM on June 11, 2012

I went to West Chester for a year. Decent party school. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if it was a (drunken) prank. Its also the time of year lots of people go to the shore.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:16 AM on June 11, 2012

They are gathered up en masse to be bled for their pharmeceutical uses. They're usually returned to their source afterwards. How far away is the salt water? Because "fell off a truck on their way to/from bleeding" is my guess.
posted by endless_forms at 7:25 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I saw their blue blood (slightly green when congealed?) leaking through armor cracks- definitely whole organisms, and definitely unbled (I think you have to seriously main the things to extract blood properly)
posted by MangyCarface at 7:31 AM on June 11, 2012

I think you have to seriously main the things to extract blood properly

No, it's normal for them to survive the process, and they're not bled dry. See the Wikipedia article -- while estimates of the mortality rate vary from 3% to 30%, it's more typical for them to survive. The industry *wants* them to survive, to keep the populations viable. They're returned to the ocean after bleeding for exactly that reason.
posted by endless_forms at 7:37 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Right now is the time of year they come up on beaches at night to mate. Anyone walking on a beach at night now at night could gather these by the hundreds. It would be illegal, or course, but any drunk idiot with a pickup truck could be responsible.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 7:47 AM on June 11, 2012

I was down on Delaware Bay during mating season one year and you literally cannot walk on the tidal area of the beach without stepping on one of these. My guess is somebody gathered up a mess of them, brought them home, and tossed them out the window for "fun."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:54 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nightmare? They're like nature's Roomba.

Anyhow, having done an LAL assay or two in my day, I can say that the companies who make these reagents are kind of concerned about the well being of the species (because they know which side their bread is buttered on) and this is why I got a link to a National Geographic article that informed me that their other industrial uses for them are in the fertilizer and bait sectors (where their participation is not on an outpatient basis).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:35 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Okay, based on the following:

It's horseshoe crab breeding season.

During my last trip to NJ (Memorial Day) I saw a lot of horseshoe crabs AND a lot of PA license plates.

In my experience as a field trip guide, kids love to pick up "shells" - and no matter how many times we remind them to not pick up anything that even smells slightly, every day on the busride home something starts to stink and I have to confiscate something.

My best guess is....

A few families traveled to the coast. Some kids picked up Horseshoe crabs already killed by birds, but only the gills have been eaten, none of the "shell-meat". Almost home, in a hot car, something starts to stink, and it's realized it's the crab. Out the window it goes.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:20 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, I highly doubt the transport was for scientific reasons. Having transported HSC's myself, I always take EXTREME care with them - so I think it's safe to assume that's off the table.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:26 PM on June 11, 2012

Response by poster: Well, I learned a bit about horseshoe crabs, and as it usually goes in life the most correct answer is probably the most mundane. Thanks everyone!
posted by MangyCarface at 5:53 AM on June 12, 2012

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