Helping Overturned Horseshoe Crabs

Though they aren’t horseshoes and they aren’t technically crabs, these animals seem to be incredibly intimidating to touch for many. But did you know, that you can help them by flipping over a horseshoe crab and bringing them back to the ocean?

Horseshoe crabs are already facing a number of threats to their population. They come to shore to spawn but thousands and will get overturned or stuck too far up the beach. Their tail (also known as a telson) is meant to help in this endeavor but doesn’t always.

Here are a few simple things to know when you encounter a wild (and likely beached) horseshoe crab.

Photo: Danielle Brigida/USFWS at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge

1) Horseshoe crabs do not sting or bite

Their tail doesn’t hurt you. It’s actually a way they help right themselves, but in many cases they get stranded high on the beach during spawning season. Their tail may look scary but it’s used to help them if they get flipped over by a wave.

2) Lift by the sides of the shell and not the tail

If you see one on their back and they’re alive, it may save their life to help them. Just be careful and pick them up by the sides of the shell, not the tail.

This video shows how you can carefully move them to the ocean if you encounter a horseshoe crab and want to help it get back to sea.

3) They can live out of the water for about 4 days

Crabs stranded on the beach during spawning will bury themselves in the sand or fold themselves in half to conserve water until the tide rises again. But if you can help them in the meantime, you may just save a life!

Other resources for horseshoe crabs:

Danielle Brigida, National Social Media Manager



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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.