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Recent Articles and Notes about Quincy High School

The Horseshoe Crab Leaves A Medical Legacy

The horseshoe crab leaves a medical legacy
Visitors to museum learn of a beneficial ocean animal

By ERIKA GROFF, Special to the Times Union
First published: Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NORTH GREENBUSH -- Look for horseshoe crabs at The Children's Museum of Science and Technology, and you'll find Jessica Antalek.
As the aquarist at the museum, she has been given charge of one female and four male horseshoe crabs, as well as other arthropods and animals under her supervision.

Antalek studied biology at Quincy University in Quincy, Ill. and fisheries and aquaculture at the College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. In her current position, she enjoys getting her hands wet on a daily basis.

"I do like being around the animals and getting to share the things I love with all kinds of young people," she said.

Earlier this month, Antalek presented a workshop called, "Hooray for Horseshoe Crabs" for children and adults alike.

She showed her audience a life-sized horseshoe crab model made of paper. Kids were able to put them together and bring them home.

Antalek used a chart to explain the history of the horseshoe crab in comparison to that of dinosaurs and humans.

Horseshoe crabs appeared 290 million years ago, she said, before dinosaurs, which are believed to have appeared 200 million years old.

Why has the horseshoe crab survived, then, while dinosaurs have come and gone?

"Their habitat: the ocean," Antalek said. "Compared to other habitats, the ocean doesn't change as frequently over time. Also, horseshoe crabs have a simple shape and niche that works well for them."

In the wild, they eat clams, worms and anything they find at the bottom of the ocean. At the museum, Antalek feeds them chopped seafood.

"They have a good sense of smell, so they can find their food pretty readily," said Antalek.

The horseshoe crabs at The Children's Museum of Science and Technology are all adults. That means they are at least 9-12 years old and might live up to 20 years.

They were given to the museum by the marine biological lab in Woods Hole, Mass. Because the females are needed in their natural environment to lay eggs, most of the horseshoe crabs at the museum are male.

They won't breed in captivity, but in the wild, a single female horseshoe crab can lay 20,000 eggs each year.

Most of those young won't make it to adulthood, however, because they are vulnerable to be eaten by shore birds that depend on horseshoe crab eggs for survival.

Horseshoe crabs, like other animals used for education at the museum, aren't given names by staffers because they are not considered pets.

What fascinates most newcomers to horseshoe crabs, Antalek said, is that their blood is of great benefit to humans.

"We use their blood to test IV fluids, medications and prosthetics to see if they're contaminated with bacteria. This test is now required by the FDA," she said. "If you have ever had an IV, you have benefited from horseshoe crabs."

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