Saturday, January 26, 2013


Not long ago I was perusing Pat Garber's 1995 book, Ocracoke Wild, a Naturalist's Year on an Outer Banks Island. Pat has lived on Ocracoke on and off for quite a few years. In fact, I just saw her a couple of days ago.

I was reading the chapter entitled "Medical Miracle of the Pamlico: Horseshoe Crabs" when I came upon a word new to me, "telson." Although telson is technically the last division (as opposed to a true "segment") of the body of a crustacean, the term also applies to the "tail" of the the chelicerata (a subdivision of the arthropods) which include scorpions, spiders, and horseshoe crabs (which, of course, are not true crabs).

If you have ever seen a horseshoe crab crawling along the bottom in Pamlico Sound you might be tempted to retreat as quickly as possible. Its spiny carapace appears formidable, and the spiked telson looks like a dangerous weapon, but these "living fossils" are entirely harmless. Go ahead, carefully pick the creature up by its telson and examine its intricate conglomeration of legs, gills, and eyes. Keep it under water to minimize any harm to the animal. 

 As Pat explains, the horseshoe crab's blue blood is used in cancer research and to diagnose spinal meningitis, as well as for identifying bacterial diseases. It came as a surprise to me that their eyes are "among the most efficient light-gathering tools known" and "have been studied by solar engineers and are used in neurophysiological research."

Wow! Just one more aquatic wonder from Ocracoke Island.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of windmills on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:37 PM

    i discovered this site a while back and it's nice to come here and learn something interesting. granted there is a lot of nonsense comments on here but for the most part it is interesting. my 2 cents worth added to the crab subject is that their mouth is at the junction of all those legs and they actually chew their food with their 'shoulders' then just push it all in their mouth. ok, that's my contribution to the site. i'll sit back until i have something else to say. thanks