As a child summer-vacationing at an Atlantic beach, I discovered horseshoe crabs. They washed up on Maryland’s barrier spit and created spectacles for screeching toddlers. Their bodies were sleek, green, foreign, with tails like whips. Underneath, they were at once frightening and fascinating.
The writer of an article on The Atlantic’s website informed his readers that the unusual blood of the horseshoe crab was big business. In the 2010s, every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using a certain chemical abundant in the blood of “a forgettable sea creature.” Corporate medicine calls their brand of horseshoe-crab factory farming “bleeding.”
We moved to Connecticut at the onset of my teens. The colonial towns on Long Island Sound became my milieu. On a Memorial Day weekend we were teenagers at a party, classmates at a private arts school. We sat on a sunlit breakwater among fine historic homes, drinking beer drowsily and dangling our feet into clear, cold brine.
The Atlantic’s article showed photos of masked, gloved, medical technicians watching long rows of horseshoe crabs restrained at odd angles in machinery. The unfortunate creatures dripped their baby-blue blood through tubes into sterile glass bottles. When they are nearly bled to death, someone unhooks those horseshoe crabs and throws them back into the ocean. The medical industry claims “only a small percentage of them die.”
Inches under our winter-white toes, horseshoe crabs gathered in shallow water, humble shells as big as our privileged heads. Carefree pairing was the theme of that party. The horseshoe crabs’ unlikely physical maneuvers were far less clumsy than our social ones. We watched in awe their small, mighty efforts. And they mated as they have for 450 million years, shamelessly, unforgettably.
Elizabeth G Fagan is an artist and writer who lives on Lake Michigan’s western shore, its “left coast.”
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