Thursday, June 22, 2006

What's Under the Water in the Gowanus: Horseshoe Crabs

All props to Dope on the Slope, the intrepid blogger whose founding of a Gowanus photo pool on flickr led to the creation of Gowanus Lounge in a roundabout way. So, we flinched when we did our daily check of Dope on the Slope late yesterday afternoon and discovered his blog entry, "Gowanus Invertebrate Blogging," thinking in a self-centered way that perhaps he was calling us spineless. But no. DOTS actually captured the image of a horseshoe crab in the Gowanus by the Carroll Street Bridge. (I know it isn't much, but when the Gowanus is your namesake body of water every little thing counts.)
I saw a man and his daughter staring intently into the water. When I walked up they pointed into the murk below and, to my surprise, there was a HUGE horshoe crab scuttling about the shallows. He and his daughter had never seen one before, so I told them what they were called, and gave him a brief rundown of their life history.

Horshoe crabs used to be called "horsefoot crabs" because of their strong resemblance to a hoof when viewed from above. They aren't really crabs at all, but are more closely related to arachnids (ticks, scorpions, spiders, etc.), although they have their very own class, Merostomata. Their basic design has been unchanged for millions of years, so it must be a pretty good one from a survival standpoint. Still, I must admit I was surprised to find one in the Gowanus Canal. They usually eat by borrowing for worms and mollusks. Could it have been feeding? I'd hate to think what the water quality is just below the Carroll Street bridge, but maybe it's not as bad as it looks.
We have seen the Gowanus ducks and evidence of other aquatic life, but never a horseshoe crab. Resilient buggers.

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