The Story of a Living Fossil; Breeva, the Horseshoe Crab
The following story is a key chapter in the book I've written entitled "Under the Sea Time Forgot". The book is geared toward upper middle-grade, but crosses over to young adults; and I believe even grown ups would find it amusing and eye opening! Breeva is a prehistoric horseshoe crab from the Devonian age and one of three main characters in the book. She has come of age, so to speak, and wants to fulfill her life's maternal calling, only she has more in mind than any other horseshoe crab would ever imagine. But you'd have to read the book to find out what that is.
Numerous other "true-to-life" ancient animal species and Earth's first forests come alive in the book as well. But this particular chapter reveals much about the amazing horseshoe crab that has survived several planetary disasters wiping out their counterparts. Under the Sea Time Forgot will be available for sale in 2020.
Notably,through my research, I grew sympathetic towards the horseshoe crab's modern day plight. Here's an awesome creature that's been around for over 400 million years surviving multiple mass extinctions and now man could possibly be responsible for driving them to their doom! What a shame that would be. I have provided several great websites at the bottom of the page focused on whats' being done to help the horseshoe crab and how each of us can help. Also, some interesting horseshoe crab facts are listed at the end of the chapter story.
A brief background: For the first time, Breeva has left behind her best friends, Omnu the ammonite, and her cousin, Rin, a trilobite. She has no choice in the matter driven by Mother Nature to continue the cycle of life. Regardless of her friend's concern for her safety, she must leave the familiarity of her ocean habitat.
Delivery On The Beach
Squeezing a few teardrops from her eyes, Breeva bid farewell for the time being to her two best friends. At the same moment, a fluttering pulse in her heart urged her forward with determination to fulfill her maternal calling. She turned away from the pair and for the first time in her life, bravely stepped outside from the familiarity of her saltwater home. When a breeze brushed over her water soaked shell, a sudden case of shivers shook her all over. The new sensation triggered her to draw in her very first breath from air. She immediately felt a sensation in her limbs ignited by a dose of ancient pristine oxygen received through her bi-functional gills. As long as they were kept moist, they would support her throughout her terrestrial adventures.
Breeva stood motionless in awe of her new surroundings. With her senses on high alert, she soaked in the chill of the wind, the sound of the sifting sand and the sight of the surf spilling onto shore. Using her unique scent receptors, she drew in the tang of the air, reminiscent after a rain shower infused with sea salt. Refocusing her eyes, she peered out over the far reaching landscape dominated by rambling, sun-bleached sand hills. Hopes of spotting a special mate entered her mind, but there was not yet one in sight. Regardless, she felt completely relaxed and used the occasion to practice breathing the air while relishing the scenery. Suddenly, another attack of shivers traveled through to her core, only not from the breeze this time, but from the excitement she felt thinking about her calling. She had only recently reached adulthood at about the age of ten. It was an important moment in her life for which she looked forward to sharing some day with her closest of kin.
The young horseshoe crab decided to hike across the beach in search of an ideal nesting place for her eggs. The nest needed to be far enough away from the shore in order to protect her eggs from becoming flushed out by high tide. Yet, it also needed to be close enough to the shore in order for her new hatchlings to successfully make their mad dash to the sea. She quickly discovered that traveling across the sinking crystal sands was far more strenuous than what she was accustomed to underwater. She worked ever so hard with her pusher legs and gradually managed to inch her way closer towards the outlying tree line. Along the route, her body disappeared and reappeared between the swells. The heat from the sun penetrated through her exoskeleton armor giving her a new sensation of inner warmth. While lumbering along, she stumbled across a tiny mollusk and easily scooped it up with her front feeding legs. Energized by the protein snack, she refocused her search. The first time mother-to-be left behind a pattern of wavy tracks where she had crisscrossed back and forth, unsure of where to dig for a nest.
Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks and raised her long spiked tail like a drawbridge. She thought she had seen something moving around farther down on the beach. Her tail had special light sensors on top which she could use to detect contrasting images from a greater height and distance. Sure enough, with the use of her tail sensors she spotted several dark shapes shuffling around down by the shoreline. The figures were too far away to be recognized, but she suspected they were patient males anticipating the arrival of females. Instinct led Breeva anxiously in their direction and she forgot about finding a nesting place for the time being. Not long after, several other females with the same quest as her own flanked her from all sides. The other lady horseshoe crabs sped past newcomer Breeva, eager to join the males. When the two groups of arthropods eventually met, Breeva couldn’t help but notice how joyful the other lady horseshoe crabs felt upon finding a mate.
The gentlemen horseshoe crabs were noticeably smaller than their counterparts. Also, they had adapted a special claw designed to attach securely to the back of a female’s shell so they could be dragged along with them. In extreme cases, the males were known to hitch a ride behind the lady horseshoe crabs for weeks at a time. The females clearly outnumbered the males, but Breeva wasn't the worrying type and figured a special mate was out there for her somewhere. While waiting for his arrival, she used the time, as usual, to appreciate the landscape. Her multiple eyes were drawn upwards as she marveled at the newness of the deep blue sky. She sat quietly overcome by the infinity of space it encompassed. It was always during those kinds of moments that she realized she was part of something much bigger than herself. She sensed an inner connection to the wide-openness and somehow felt comforted by it. Then in a flash, a curious creature came into her view as it sprung high off the ground and then back down; up and down it repeated to her delight.
“What a magnificent being that can swim in the sky,” she innocently thought to herself.
She watched it yo-yo up and down landing from rock to rock, never staying in one place for very long. The creature was a primitive arthropod insect. Its most dominant trait was an iridescent shimmer radiating off its body. The bright reflection momentarily blinded her, especially her most sensitive set of compound eyes. It held her attention until it pranced farther down the stretch of shoreline and gradually out of her sight. Her gaze then landed back out over the expansion of the ocean and another new awareness suddenly dawned upon her. She, at long last, understood the immensity of her home ocean habitat by how it mimicked the vastness of the sky. Omnu and Rin entered her procession of thoughts and she wondered where they might be in all that aqua blue water. It drew her into another moment of silent harmony.
Suddenly, in the corner of her eye, she noticed a lone figure which transported her focus back to her present quest. She spun around for a better look. The dark figure seemed to be approaching straight her way. She wondered if it could be a special mate just for her. In case it was, Breeva wanted to be ready for his arrival and resumed her search for the perfect nesting spot. She finally settled on a suitable location and began to scoop out a sandpit with her claws and bowl shaped shell. After some steady work, a concave nest started to take form. She was concentrating so hard on her digging that she had forgotten all about the mysterious figure until he had almost caught up to her. Breeva was relieved to finally fix her eyes upon her male companion, just like the other females had earlier. At last, the time had arrived when Breeva and her mate would fulfill their vital roles continuing the cycle of life.
Following their brief acquaintance, instinct took over and Breeva proceeded to deposit approximately a thousand, pearly green eggs into the hollowed out nest. Her new companion, Jolro, fertilized them thereafter. She then covered the fertilized eggs with several inches of moist sand in order to keep them cool and protected. Next, with Jolro attached to the back of her shell using his clamper claw, Breeva towed him along heading for a second site to deposit yet another litter of offspring, and another one after that.
Evening eventually took hold and a full moon cast a bright light across the twinkling sea. It illuminated the breaker waves gently washing over hundreds of other horseshoe crabs on the shore drawn together by Mother Nature. Before the evening's close, the new couple had completed the daunting task of depositing and fertilizing thousands of eggs into several separate nests. In the process, time hadn’t allowed the two arthropods to exchange much conversation. All their energy had been focused on their calling.
When morning broke, the whole gang of horseshoe crabs was struck by the fresh morning air, pleasant and warm with absence of wind. Under the bluest of skies, they all sat ever so still mesmerized by the gentle surf as it washed over the salt soaked shoreline and tickled their crooked little legs. Breeva awoke very pleased with how well she and Jolro’s spawning event had panned out. She felt extremely proud of herself and Jolro. He had stayed with her throughout the entire process and a special bond had developed between them. All the morning hours, they finally got their chance to reminisce over their experience before departing back into the ocean depths. Both would return to the beach during the following full-moon to deposit yet another litter of young. She hoped Jolro would be her special mate when that moment arrived.
Interesting Horseshoe Crab Facts
Horseshoe crabs are simple primitive creatures which haven't changed much in over 400 million years.
Science believes they have survived the eons for several reasons; the shape and size of their exoskeleton shield . . . they can go a year without food . . . they adapt to high salt environments and extreme temperatures . . . their unique blood protects them from infection.
The horseshoe crab is not a crab, but more closely related to spiders and scorpions and prehistoric trilobites; they are in a class of their own.
They are gentle animals, non-threatening to humans.
They can breathe in and out of water due to bi-functional book gills that resemble pages of a book.
Their thousands of eggs are vital to the survival of migratory birds and other sea animals.
Horseshoe crab blood is blue due to the copper in it.
Science has discovered a way to help humans using an element in their blood to test pharmaceuticals.
Abuse * Used as Bait * Over Harvesting * Pollution * Shrinking Environment
I hope you enjoyed the story of Breeva the horseshoe crab and learned something about her species. Check out the websites listed below to see how we can all help ensure their survival. The horseshoe crab is truly a special creature!
Horseshoe Crab Websites
- Just flip 'em Program
"Just Flip em" over campaign, Tells other ways you can help the horseshoe crab cause, including where to make a donations toward conservation fund.
- Horseshoe crab videos, photos and facts - Limulus polyphemus - ARKive
Some awesome photography with intimate close ups of the horseshoe crab! Includes reasons they are threatened . . .