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The creatures along the shoreline this week that have proved to be a mystery to some, I’m sure are the horseshoe crabs. This crab is one of the most fascinating creatures of Florida. Unlike true crabs, horseshoe crabs do not possess antennae or jaws, and they have several pairs of legs.
Checking the fossil record suggests to us that the ancestors of horseshoe crabs were common about 350 million years ago, long before the age of the dinosaurs. The horseshoe crab has changed very little from then until now, so often called a “living fossil.” They can survive up to one year without eating.
Only four species of the horseshoe crab exist today. One exists in Florida and is a conspicuous part of our marine ecosystem. They are found in spots that have low wave action, along shorelines where they come to lay their eggs. They like bottoms of sand and mud from shallows to low tide depths of about 75 feet.
Its alien-like body unfortunately gives this animal an unfavorable reputation. Scientifically it has been given the name Limulus polyphemus, because of its odd appearance. Limulus means a little “askew” or “odd” in Latin, with polyphemus is the name of the giant cyclops of Greek mythology. Despite all of this, the horseshoe crab is a harmless creature.
Florida horseshoe crabs mate the year around, although spring and summer are the peak season. Many mate three days before or after a full moon. They lay an average of 4,000 eggs, and have been known to produce as many as 90,000 in a season.
Humans harvest horseshoe crabs for many different uses. They have been used as fertilizer for crops. This cause a decline in their population and this came to an end in the 1950s. They were also used to feed livestock, but this too, came to an end as they affected the flavor of the meat.
In today’s workd, they are used for fishing as bait by eel fisherme. In the bio-medical field of research, the horseshoe crab’s eyes have led to a better understanding of the function of the human eyes.
Chitin, a horny substance making the outer shell, has been researched for reducing pain and healing time of wounds. A chemical in their blood for clotting, called LAL, is in high demand worldwide.
The pharmaceutical companies who extract this blood from the horseshoe crab take the blood, then release them. This does not affect the crab, although in some parts of the nation there is a decline in population due to the years of use of the crab for fertilizer and stock food.
You will find the shell of the horseshoe crab in many gift shops. If you walk the shorelines you will indeed see a nest of horseshoe crabs clinging together.
Giant black drum are invading our shorelines, breaking lines. The bag limit for drum is five per person per day, and the slot size is a minimum of 14” and maximum size of 24”.
Around the bait shops, I heard some good vibrates.
“Fishing is great ‘cause of the full moon.”
“Man, fishing is good anytime in our waterway.”
“The snook have finally found their way into Tampa Bay.”
“Happy that none of those hurricanes came our way.”
“Weather has been great fishing at night.”
“Redfish are back in the swim.”
“Fish are so hungry that they will take any type of bait.”
“Don’t be paying a high price for a grouper sandwich that isn’t grouper. Go out to the ship channel and catch one.”
“They closed the part of the Skyway that I always fished from, but they said it wasn’t safe anymore. I feel sorry for those people who had the tackle shop and more out there; they told me that they had no warning that they were going to close them.”
“Did you notice that tarpon schools are in the bay?” “Yah, they are here today and gone tomorrow.”
Those fishing Tampa Bay this week have brought in a variety of catches. Some permit have invaded us and were hungry. Several were boated by anglers. One angler reported that tarpon were not taking their bait, so they tried several kinds and still didn’t land one.
Redfish have decided to come back into our waters in schools. Some say they were here, but were in deep holes. Snook are swimming along the mangroves, eating at night on outgoing tides. Flounder have emerged from the sandy bottoms to peek at the anglers and look for food. A few keepers have been boated.
Mangrove snapper are still in the swim. Mullet are being netted by those who can read a school and throw a complete circle with their cast net. Eel have been teasing anglers and taking their bait in the Little Manatee. They are fun to catch and will give you a fight as you bring them in. To me, they are not fun to release. Some keep them to use for bait.
A phone call came in about turtles: “How do you make turtle soup?” I don’t have a recipe for turtles, as sea turtles are a protective species. Don’t be caught with one.
Obey the laws of the waterways.
-- Aleta Jonie Maschek is a member of Florida Outdoor Press.
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