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Biodiversity & Environment

International Horseshoe Crab Day

  • 20 Jun 2020
  • 4 min read

Why in News

Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s has decided to observe the first-ever International Horseshoe Crab Day on 20th June 2020.

  • The celebration of the day aims to generate greater awareness for these ancient creatures and help in their conservation.

Key Points

  • Horseshoe Crab:
    • It is a marine chelicerate arthropod living in shallow coastal waters on soft sandy or muddy bottom and spawns (release or deposit eggs) mostly on intertidal beaches at summer spring high tides.
      • Subphylum Chelicerata is a division within the Phylum Arthropoda containing animals such as spiders, scorpions, harvestmen, mites and ticks. Like all arthropods, they have a segmented body and segmented limbs and a thick chitinous cuticle called an exoskeleton.
      • Other than the marine horseshoe crabs, the Chelicerata are found primarily in terrestrial environments worldwide.
    • It is regarded as a marine ‘living fossil’.
    • There are four extant horseshoe crab species:
      • The American horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) along the eastern coast of the USA and in the Gulf of Mexico.
      • The tri-spine horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus)
      • The coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas)
      • The mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda)
        • The last three are Indo-pacific species found in the coastal waters of India, southeast Asia, China and Japan.
    • Odisha is their largest habitat in India.
  • Importance:
    • They have existed since the time of the dinosaurs and are important ecosystem engineers and predators of small organisms.
    • Their ecological function is to lay millions of eggs on beaches to feed shorebirds, fish and other wildlife.
    • Their large hard shell serves as a microhabitat for many other species such as sponges, mud crabs, mussels and snails.
    • They are a critical link to world health, biodiversity and hold cultural importance across the globe.
  • Threats:
    • Overharvesting for use as food, bait and biomedical testing.
    • Habitat Destruction:
      • Habitat loss from coastal reclamation and development.
      • Shoreline alterations that are engineered to protect beaches from erosion and sea level rise due to climate change also affect their spawning habitats.
    • Poachers kill them for their meat which is popularly believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
    • Trade in horseshoe crabs is rampant in many Indian states as it is believed that consumption of horseshoe crab meat can lengthen a person’s lifespan, even though there is no scientific evidence to support this.
    • Its carapace (hard upper shell) is crushed and mixed with water to prepare a paste, which is applied onto scars.
  • Conservation:
    • It is in the Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, under which the catching and killing of a horseshoe crab is an offence.
    • IUCN Status:
      • American horseshoe crab: Vulnerable.
      • Tri-spine horseshoe crab: Endangered.
      • The two other species are not listed yet.
    • The crackdown on horseshoe crab poachers requires superior, inter-state coordination among police and wildlife authorities of Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states.
    • The Zoological Survey of India has suggested declaring the habitat of horseshoe crabs as Eco-Sensitive Zones for their conservation and proper management.

Source: DTE

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