Blue Blooded Blues
It’s only a crab! However, you will be shocked to know the price of its blood. The blue blood of Atlantic Horseshoe crab (or Limulus) is one of the most expensive liquids in the world, as it costs between USD 35,000 and USD 60,000 per gallon.
Horseshoe crabs are marine and brackish water arthropods of the family Limulidae, suborder Xiphosurida and order Xiphosura. Their popular name is actually a misnomer, as they bear little resemblance to horseshoes. So, they have more similarity to spiders and are not crabs in a true sense.
Atlantic horseshoe crabs
Limulus has the ability to protect itself from any type of bacteria or toxic substance because of its blood that has an extraordinary power. This special ability increases their importance in medical science. The colour of their blood is blue as the species uses hemocyanin to carry oxygen through the blood. Because of the copper present in hemocyanin, the colour of their blood is blue. Their blood contains amebocytes that play a similar role to the white blood cells of vertebrates in defending the organism against pathogens. On the other hand, the vertebrates usually transport oxygen to the blood by utilising the presence of iron in haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells.
Crab blood has amebocyte and the presence of ten-trillionth part of bacteria in the ambocyte helps coagulation or blood clotting – an important process that prevents excessive bleeding when a blood vessel is injured. It takes at least 48 hours in case of mammals. Scientists are trying to create this ambocyte. Interestingly, the use of ‘Limulus Amebocyte Lysate’ (LAL) began in the 1970s. LAL test is widely used for the detection and quantification of bacterial endotoxins. The LAL test is vital to identifying contaminants in medical equipment before surgical operations, pacemaker fittings and many sorts of vaccinations. Currently, scientists try to create an artificial substance that is similar to LAL.
Horseshoe crabs are bled at Charles River Laboratories, Charleston, South Carolina in the US.
Basically, Limulidae is a life-saving or blood-donating crab! The pharmaceutical companies catch more than 430,000 of these creatures each year in the US. These companies puncture the shell near the heart, harvest 30% of the blood and then return them to the wild. As per a study, 5-20% crabs die in this process and the surviving females find it more difficult to breed.
Horseshoe crabs are popularly known as living fossils as their ancestors can traced back through the geologic record to around 445 million years ago, 200 million years before dinosaurs existed.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently declared the creature as ‘vulnerable‘ and also put it on the ‘red list‘! The IUCN further mentioned in a report that the number of crab would decline by nearly 30% in the US in the next four decades and started taking necessary steps to preserve the species.
A migrating Red Knot near dead horseshoe crabs on the beach along Delaware Bay in Fortescue, New Jersey.
According to an UN report, 30% of the world’s natural capital has been lost since 1972. Pushpam Kumar – the UN Chief Environmental Economist – has expressed serious concern over the scenario, saying: “The report has startling findings with strong implication for conservation and development policies.”
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