Horseshoe Crab Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

Come learn about an unusual sea creature known as the horseshoe crab. Its name may make you think it's like other crabs, but it's really more like a spider. Horseshoe crabs are ancient animals that have been around for hundreds of millions of years.

What is a Horseshoe Crab?

Horseshoe crabs are very unusual creatures. They are a type of invertebrate animal, which means they do not have a backbone. They live in saltwater along the shore.

This is a horseshoe crab. Its name comes from the fact that the head end of its body looks a lot like the shoe or hoof of a horse.

When you look at a horseshoe crab, you will probably think it looks like some sort of alien. They don't look like other crabs. They look more like little space ships with spikey tails.

Horseshoe crabs have been on Earth for over 300 million years. That means that they have been around since before the time of the dinosaurs! But it isn't only how long they have been around that makes them unique.

Where Do Horseshoe Crabs Live?

So where can you find one of these strange creatures? If you are lucky enough to live near the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, you can go see one in person. Horseshoe crabs live along the beaches there. They can also be found along the beaches of the Indian and Pacific Oceans in some parts of Asia.

Adult crabs can go on the beach or in deep water off the shore.

Young horseshoe crabs and eggs are found on the beaches and in the waters just off the beach. Like you, young horseshoe crabs aren't good enough swimmers to go into deep water yet. Adults can be found either on the beach or in deeper water off the beach.

The best time to see adult crabs on the beaches is late spring through early summer along the Atlantic, because this is the time of year when they come on land to lay their eggs. They lay their eggs and bury them in the sand just like sea turtles do. You can see them year round on the Gulf of Mexico.

Horseshoe Crab Body Features

Horseshoe crabs aren't like the crabs that you might eat for dinner. They don't have big pincher claws or waddle sideways when they move. Their bodies are actually much more like a spider's body than a true crab's.

Horseshoe crabs have an exoskeleton like a spider does. An exoskeleton is a hard shell-like covering that surrounds the inside body parts of the crab. It helps protect the inside body parts like a shield.

Underneath their exoskeletons are their body organs (like their brain and stomach) and ten legs that they use for walking.

This is what the underside of a horseshoe crab looks like.

Their bodies have not changed a lot over the years, so today's horseshoe crabs look a lot like a fossilized horseshoe crab from 300 million years ago would look like.

They don't live for 300 million years though. They live for around 20 years and can begin to have babies after about ten years.

Ancestors of these crabs lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.

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