Saturday, April 28, 2012

"'cause they're ugly!" - Part II

          Well after Brockmann’s “beach incident,” she reminded me that “Every single person has benefited from horseshoe crabs and that is primarily because of the medical tests.  Everything that goes into the human body is tested to make sure that it is not contaminated with bacteria.  The LAL test has become the standard for all injectables.  Hip replacements, heart valves, and anything else that goes into the human body has been tested against horseshoe crab blood.”
            “From a personal point of view,” Brockmann emphasized, “the answer to your question would be that they’re just such fascinating creatures and so unusual. I always think to myself, when I’ve been in the field for a little while, it’s like studying a Martian. They don’t share a common ancestor with any other group for four-hundred and fifty million years.”  For Brockmann there’s nothing else like them on this planet.  “And yet, all of us studying their biochemistry, or their blood, or their visual system are finding fundamental principles that apply to all kinds of species on the planet.”  We all use lateral inhibition in helping us identify visual patterns – a critical principle first discovered in studies of horseshoe crabs.  “So, although [crabs] are Martians in the sense that they don’t share a common ancestor with anybody else, all life has these basic [and surprising] similarities. My personal view is that they’re so absolutely fascinating and they get even more intriguing as you learn more about them.”
            “I think,” Brockmann stated, “that it’s very important to emphasize that this funny looking creature that you don’t think is worth much; this stupid, "ugly" animal is actually important to the ecosystem, to science and to me.”  As a scientist, Brockmann is concerned about the unbelievable ignorance surrounding these animals.  She worries that there are so many individuals who hold the belief that these animals are of no consequence.  “This animal is of consequence and so are a lot of other animals.”
            My conversations with Carl Shuster yielded similar information and similar passion.  Shuster told me that there’s a lot about this animal that interfaces with our activities, particularly human health.  He made the point that the crab’s heart has been well studied and there is a positive relationship between activation of the heart by nerve impulses and intramuscular activity.  Some of these processes also come into play in human anatomy as well.  “Much of what we know in the visual sciences has been aided by what has been studied in the horseshoe crab optical system.”
            With fire in his eyes he said, “If you want to know something about the world around you and what influences it and you want to pick an animal that’s had greater influence than any other on human health and human life, the horseshoe crab maybe is it.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor" is now available!

Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor can now be obtained through a special pre-publication offer from the publisher.  Log on to the Ruka Press web site (  Click on the announcement for "Horseshoe Crab."  When the order form appears, enter the code "PRE" into the coupon box and you will receive an automatic 25% discount off the regular price.  This special offer is good only until the scheduled release date for the book (May 22, 2012).

Please feel free to share this information with friends and colleagues.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"'cause they're ugly!" - Part I

          I suppose that if any animal in the world should have an inferiority complex it might as well be the horseshoe crab.  You would think that a creature that has been around for considerably longer than Tyrannosaurus rex or bad customer service from commercial airlines would get some respect.  Alas, such is not the case.
            I suspect that part of the reason most people have a somewhat diffident attitude towards Limulus is because of their looks.  “Cute” is probably not the first word you think of in any face-to-face encounter with a horseshoe crab.  “Cute” is a word normally assigned to soft, furry critters like koala bears and those ever-present kittens on non-stop web cams.  Young kids and old ladies especially love cuddly creatures ‘cause you can turn them into stuffed animals or post pictures of them around the foyer of your house.  But, a picture of a horseshoe crab – no way, José!
          Dr. Jane Brockmann tells the story of the time when she was on a beach in Delaware.  As she was sitting there observing horseshoe crabs, she noticed a man and a woman walking down the beach.  The tide was coming in and a pair of horseshoe crabs (in some serious amplexis) began to crawl up out of the water.  The man walks over and looks at the spawning pair.  He then sees a nearby board, picks it up, and slams the animals as hard as he can…not once, but two or three times.  Brockmann was so taken by surprise and so incensed that she shot up and cried, “Why’d you do that?”  He turned to her, a look of defiance on his face, and replied, "’cuz they’re ugly."
          Imagine walking down the street in your town and some beefy motorcyclist comes up to you and slugs you right in the face with a good right hook.  After sufficiently recovering, you ask the heavily-tattooed individual, “Why the hell did you do that?”  And the heavily-tattooed individual replies, “’cuz you’re ugly.”  Really messes up your day!
          Throughout the research for the book Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor there was one question I would pose to almost every scientist, marine biologist, environmentalist, horseshoe crab enthusiast, or researcher.  That was, “Why should the average person care about horseshoe crabs?” or “Why should someone in the Midwest or on the West Coast care about horseshoe crabs when they are exclusively an East Coast species (specifically Limulus polyphemus)?”  I was particularly curious as to why folks in Minnesota or New Mexico or Oregon should have any kind of interest in this enigmatic creature when there were none around their “neck of the woods” for them to see.
            In almost every instance, the answer came back the same – “Because they are so much a part of our lives!”