why do we harvest horseshoe crab blood?
About Horseshoe Crab
The horseshoe crab is considered by many to be a living fossil. It has been on Earth some 220 million years, longer than dinosaurs. And it survives today almost identical to its ancient ancestors.One of the reasons that horseshoe crabs have survived so long is that they have a highly robust immune system. Indeed, the horseshoe crab’s bright blue blood has remarkable antibacterial properties. The good news for humans, and the bad news for horseshoe crabs, is that amebocytes in the horseshoe crab blood are highly sensitive to time amounts of bacteria and will coagulate around as little as one part in a trillion of bacterial contamination. Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, or LAL, a compound processed from horseshoe crab blood is used to test for contamination of anything that might go inside the human body: every shot, every IV drip, and every implanted medical device.
Biomedical industry’s need for the Horseshoe Crab
The biomedical industry’s need for the horseshoe crab has, in fact, driven the development of laws to protect the animal. Their best security is the biomedical industry’s continued reliance on them. Without the need for LAL, the legal protection for the horseshoe crab is not guaranteed, and they would again fall prey to overfishing and use as bait for eel and whelk. For this reason, it is critical that we serve as advocates for the humane treatment of these animals, and strive to achieve balance between our need for this valuable material and the livelihood of the animal that provides it. Thanks to its use in biomedical research, the horseshoe crab maintains its protective status, allowing the population to continue to flourish.
Horseshoe crabs move by swimming or walking along the bottom. Because their exoskeleton doesn’t grow with them, they must shed, or molt, in order to grow. They may molt 16 to 17 times before they reach their adult size. After this, adults rarely molt.