Knots and Crabs: Head to the Bay!

By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant
A pari of Horseshoe Crabs begin the spawning ritual.
A pair of Horseshoe Crabs begin the spawning ritual.

Prehistoric creatures with dagger-like tails and five pairs of grasping claws emerge from the depths of the ocean to crawl up on the edges of Delaware Bay beaches to spawn the next generation of saltwater-dwelling progeny.

The Red Knot in a rare moment of rest.
A Red Knot in a rare moment of rest.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the hemisphere, flocks of chunky shorebirds take flight over the Atlantic Ocean.  Using instinctual navigational abilities, these rusty-red birds with long wings will fly non-stop to their pinpoint destination: the sandy shores  of the Delaware Bay. 

The players in this drama are the Horseshoe Crab and the Red Knot, as you may know already.  One is an ancient relative of the spider that has a face only a mother could love.  The other is a bubbly, active bird that is positively sharp-looking.   Together, their lives are intertwined in one of nature’s great spectacles.  Every May, they meet on the Delaware Bay.

Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, and Semi-palmated Sandpipers make the sand fly as they probe for horseshoe crab eggs!
Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, and Semi-palmated Sandpipers make the sand fly as they probe for horseshoe crab eggs!

The horseshoe crab and shorebird phenomenon is an internationally-recognized natural wonder.  Our fair shores play host to millions of crabs and hundreds of thousands of shorebirds each spring.  The birds are fueling up for the lengthy journey to their Arctic breeding grounds, while the crabs will simply return to the ocean to spend the next year cruising the bottom. 

The Friends of Red Knot group surrounds the giant Red Knot sculpture at the DuPont Nature Center.
The Friends of Red Knot group surrounds the giant Red Knot sculpture at the DuPont Nature Center.

 The Red Knot is an imperiled species whose population has crashed dramatically in the past decade, and whose very survival hinges upon the availability of large quantities of horseshoe crabs to gorge upon during their short visit each spring.  The Red Knot’s future is very uncertain at this point.   

Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a trip to see this spectacle in the last two weeks of May or into the first week of June.  Visit Mispillion Harbor and the beautiful DuPont Nature Center to see the highest concentration of Red Knots in the world. 

Better yet, join the Delaware Nature Society on Saturday, May 30, for Shorebird Migration and Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay, an adult members program.  Sign up at www.delawarenaturesociety.org

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