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Are Horseshoe Crabs Valuable?

The blood of the lowly horseshoe crab contains a chemical that can detect the smallest traces of bacteria in a test called LAL, which is short for Limulus Amebocyte Lysate. The blood test for bacterial contamination is big in the biotech business – drug developers depend on it, as do suppliers of surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices. In fact, LAL from horseshoe crab blood can command $60,000 USD a gallon.

Horseshoe crabs live on the sea floor near the shore. When they want to mate, they swim into shallow water, and that's where they're nabbed. Processors pierce the tissue around the crab's heart and drain up to 30 percent of its blood. The crabs are then returned to the ocean 24 to 72 hours later.

Giving blood for mankind:

  • The industry reports that 10 to 30 percent of the crabs die during the bloodletting process.
  • In regions where horseshoe crabs are harvested for biomedical purposes, fewer and fewer females return to spawn. Researchers say the bleeding process makes them lethargic, less likely to follow tides, and less likely to mate.
  • As a species, horseshoe crabs are more than half a billion years old. The copper-based, oxygen-carrying hemocyanin molecules in their blood make it baby blue in color.

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Discussion Comments
By anon995937 — On Jun 12, 2016

Well, if you lost 30% of your blood you'd be lethargic too. Just another incident of corporate greed. Why couldn't they be satisfied with 10 or 15%? Then maybe the crabs would feel more like mating.

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