Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shore Thing

In a world wracked with chaos and uncertainty, it’s nice to know that there’s at least one thing you can count on: each May, as the days lengthen and the waters warm, the horseshoe crabs emerge from the deep waters off of Delaware Bay and, pulled with the highest new- and full-moon tides, gather on the beaches in a seething wave of lust to propagate the next generation of bizarrely shaped arthropods.

It just gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?

I’ve known about this yearly ritual for quite some time—ever since I did a literature review on horseshoe crabs back in college—but this is the first year that I will be present for it. This in spite of the fact that Annie and I have been here in DC, just a few short hours from the Delaware Bay, for two years now! It’s embarrassing, how long it took me to put two and two together…

But there’s no point brooding on the past—for this year, this Memorial Day weekend, Annie and I and six of our friends (and my parents) will descend upon Lewes, DE, and spend the weekend being Limulus polyphemus voyeurs!

Well, some of us more than others. I have a sneaking suspicion that at least some members of the party are more interested in spending the weekend at the beach (or watching DVDs in company) than they are in observing this once-a-year mating event. But I can live with that, especially since I intend to discourse extensively on horseshoe crabs regardless of the level of enthusiasm of my audience (I’ve even made a fact sheet).

In fact, the only thing I’m actually concerned about is that we’ll have missed the peak of horseshoe-crab mating—which, like every other seasonal event this year, occurred weeks earlier than usual. Still, there should be a fair number of stragglers still swarming the beaches, like late-comers to a party.

We should also get to see a good number of the migratory shorebirds that depend on the beach-laid horseshoe crab eggs for fuel during their long flights to the Arctic. So look forward to hearing about more absurd-but-true shorebird names in the weeks ahead! (Yes, they really are called “dunlins.”)

[actually, these are willets]

And you can definitely expect another post describing the fascinating sex lives of horseshoe crabs. (There will be citations. There may even be illustrations.)

All in all, it should be a pretty great Memorial Day weekend. I can only hope that all of you have equally exciting plans.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}

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