Horseshoe crabs have been living on this planet for around 450 million years and have survived 5 mass extinction events. Despite their tenacity, humans may be pushing these living fossils towards extinction.
For decades, horseshoe crabs have been used to detect harmful bacteria. Pharmaceutical companies have been using the blood of horseshoe crabs to ensure that our medicines, vaccines, and surgical implants are free from bacterial contamination.
Each year, around 500,000 crabs are collected, measured, and drained of up to ⅓ of their blood. The collections happen on the East Coast of the US, Mexico, and China. The blue blood of these crabs is in high demand. In fact, a single gallon of horseshoe crab blood is worth up to $60,000.
Although the horseshoe crabs are released back into the ocean after collectors take their blood, up to 15% of the animals collected die in the process. When this is combined with constant pollution, habitat loss, and sea level rise, it becomes clear why the population is declining.
One way to halt their decline is to stop taking their blood. Luckily, a professor at the National University of Singapore has created a synthetic version of the horseshoe crab blood. If the synthetic blood becomes a mainstream option, we might be able to save this ancient species.