By John Page Williams
There’s no bad season to walk the Chesapeake’s beaches.
With eyes and mind wide open, there’s always something
to see and ponder. In the heart of spring, though, it may be
spectacular: dozens to hundreds of mating pairs of dome-shaped horseshoe crabs at the water’s edge, covered by a
screaming cloud of shorebirds, hovering and jostling for space
to land and feed on the eggs the crabs are laying. There’s major
coastal drama going on here, centered on these strange, slow-moving creatures with spike-like tails. Are they irascible biters
like our beloved blue crabs? What are they doing here? In fact,
what do they do, ever? Do they play any role in the way our Bay
works? Or in our human lives?
Well, they are officially Atlantic horseshoe crabs, Limulus
polyphemus to scientists who even several centuries ago
misunderstood them. Those names are hardly inspiring: Limulus
means askew and polyphemus means one-eyed. In fact, each
horseshoe crab has at least nine light-sensing organs. The most