Untamed Lowcountry

If you see horseshoe crabs having sex on Hilton Head, take a picture. Yes, seriously

Horseshoe crabs inundate shores of Hilton Head

Montana resident Sara Sewall Johnson shot this video on May 2, 2017 of thousands of horseshoe crabs mating on the southern shores of Hilton Head Island.
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Montana resident Sara Sewall Johnson shot this video on May 2, 2017 of thousands of horseshoe crabs mating on the southern shores of Hilton Head Island.

Spring breakers aren’t the only ones populating Hilton Head Island’s beaches these days. It’s also mating season for horseshoe crabs.

Yes, it’s that time of year when those strange, armored creatures with the long tails start showing up en masse on Hilton Head — and on other Beaufort County beaches — to spawn.

Video shared with The Island Packet in May 2017 showed thousands of them grouping up in the surf on Hilton Head.

Now, biologists with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources are asking beachgoers to help with their research into the horseshoe crabs’ habitat and behavior.

“Your sightings will help us better understand and protect these unusual creatures, which play a critical role in human health and the coastal food chain,” said a news release from SC DNR.

Horseshoe crab blood contains a compound which is used to test the safety of medicines and their eggs are a primary source of food for migrating shorebirds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We know that horseshoe crabs use the South Carolina coast to lay eggs, or spawn, and our biologists need your help identifying which areas the crabs are using in 2019. Your data will help us better understand these amazing animals and make informed decisions about our shared natural shorelines,” SC DNR’s website says.

A single horseshoe crab nest can contain an astonishing number of tiny, green eggs — anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000, The Island Packet previously reported.

Horseshoe crabs are all over area beaches during the spring. Here are 10 facts about the mysterious prehistoric creatures of the Lowcountry.

How to report sightings

Go to http://bit.ly/scdnrhorseshoecrabs to report sightings of spawning horseshoe crabs.

Here’s the information you’ll be asked to provide:

  • The date and time.
  • The approximate number of horseshoe crabs sighted.
  • The GPS coordinates of the sighting (latitude and longitude). SC DNR suggests using a phone application such as Google Maps to find those coordinates.
  • A description of the location (landmarks or closest streets).
  • Photos if available.
  • A contact email address. SC DNR says it will use the address only if biologists have follow-up questions.

“Spawning horseshoe crabs typically occur in groups of two or more crabs along the shoreline,” the SC DNR website says. “Spawning horseshoe crabs are not single crabs or upside-down, stranded crabs.”

Lisa Wilson is a breaking news reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. The 25-year newsroom veteran has worked for papers in Louisiana and Mississippi and is happy to call the Lowcountry home.
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