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Totems: Horseshoe Crab, Part 2

Gift to Mankind

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


Horseshoe crabs get their common name from the shape of their shells, which look like a horse’s hoof. I’ve read all kinds of time estimates as to how long these arthropods have been on the earth – anywhere between 250 million and 450 million years. Let’s be conservative and say horseshoe crabs have been on the earth for only 300 million years. They are essentially living fossils, an unchanged anomaly in the 300 million years they have been on the earth – that’s 100 million years before dinosaurs even arrived. A living fossil retains the same form over millions of years, and represents the sole surviving lineage from epochs past. Their closest known relative was the trilobite. If you have an affinity to ancient civilizations like Lemuria, Atlantis, and Ancient Egypt, you have a kinship with this totem. Meditating with horseshoe crab totem can help you uncover your own innate ancient wisdom.

Only the Atlantic Horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemous) inhabits the East coast from Maine to the Yucatan; the other three species of horseshoe crabs live in Asian waters. Horseshoe crabs were erroneously named after the Cyclopes, Polyphemus in Greek mythology, because he was thought to only have one eye. On the contrary, horseshoe crabs have a total of ten eyes, both on the top and underside of their shells. These are used for finding mates and sensing light. Each compound eye has about 1,000 ommatidia or light receptors. Its range of vision is a full circle. Theirs are similar to the rods and cones of human eyes, with one big difference - their rods and cones are about 100 times larger. The result of this is that they are able to identify other horseshoe crabs in darkness. Now, here’s yet another amazing thing about horseshoe crabs: even the tail bears a series of light-sensing organs up and down its length, for all practical purposes constituting the tenth eye. Horseshoe crabs see ultraviolet light from the sun (two large compound eyes magnify sunlight 10 times), and two simple eyes sense ultraviolet light from the moon. This intimately attunes horseshoe crab with moon cycles – very important for them at spawning time, since they mate during the full and new moons. Women with this totem usually have their moon time synchronized to the full moon. Both male and female folks with this totem, being intuitive, have an ability to sense what is good for them versus what is not. Many are clairvoyant and should develop this ability.

Horseshoe crabs have five pairs of book gills. Allowing them to breathe underwater, book gills are flap-like appendages. On the inside of each appendage, over 100 thin leaf-like membranes, lamellae, appearing like pages in a book, are where gas exchange takes place, moving blood, and circulating water over the gills. If the gills are kept moist, a horseshoe crab can live on land for up to four days. Crabs stranded on the beach during spawning bury themselves in the sand to conserve water until the tide rises again. If this is your totem, a breathing practice, such as Kriya yoga would be natural for you. The gills also propel juvenile horseshoe crabs through the water. With this totem, you may be a world traveler finding adventure in new realms, or perhaps you write books on how to travel economically. How does doing research on the world’s best beaches sound to you?

Do you think of horseshoe crabs making sounds? The famous clicking/gurgling sound the Predator makes in the movie of the same name was thought up and performed by voice actor Peter Cullen, who thought the predator creature resembled a horseshoe crab overturned in the hot sun. He remembered that as a kid, if you turned one over they would “gurgle” and so that became the sound of the Predator.

In different locales, horseshoe crabs have been called by various names. New Jersey fishermen call them horsefeet or horsefoot crabs. In colonial times, fishermen called them swordtail or saucepan crabs. The shells were used to bail out canoes and boats. Native people ate them; the tail was lashed onto spears at the tip. Today, they are used largely for fertilizer (lots of nitrogen), animal feed, and bait. Predation by shorebirds and other animals occurs with adults if they get overturned. Young are a meal for shorebirds, other crabs, fish, and eels that feed on the eggs, larvae and young horseshoe crabs. They themselves are voracious, feeding on marine worms, bits of fish and soft-shelled clams. But how do they chew, since they don’t have jaws? They grind up clams and marine worms with bristles on their legs, and a gizzard that holds sand and gravel for friction. This animal’s Medicine enables you to be practical and resourceful, creatively using what is at hand. You may try to fix things before buying new.

Horseshoe crab folks have an altruistic, if quiet nature. Horseshoe crabs have helped man a great deal. When I first began research on horseshoe crab, I thought that since it was so ancient, its biology was primitive, but the more I’ve learned about its physiology, the more respect I have for this bio-engineering marvel. I guess that’s why they have remained unchanged for so many millions of years. They are the single most studied invertebrate in the world. Their vision, heart action, blood and nervous systems have been the subject of studies. Three Nobel prizes have been awarded to scientists using horseshoe crab physiology in their work. From studies on the compound eyes of horseshoe crabs, important principles about the function of human eyes were discovered. Shell chitin is used in the manufacture of filament for suturing, and wound dressings for burn victims. Since the mid-1950’s, medical researchers have known that chitin-coated suture material reduces healing time by 35% to 50%, and it also reduces pain compared to other treatments.

The blood of horseshoe crabs contains the copper-containing protein, hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin, which turns human blood red. Hemocyanin is colorless when de-oxygenated, and it is dark blue when exposed to the air (like when they bleed). Their blue blood is like gold! The current selling price for a quart of horseshoe crab blood is $15,000. It’s a $50 million a year industry. Why? Scientists discovered that, in protecting themselves from disease, horseshoe crab blood clots in the presence of bacteria. The chemical in their blood responsible for this clotting is called Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL). In 1964, scientists developed the LAL test to detect bacterial endotoxins in pharmaceuticals, and to test for several bacterial diseases. Their blood is the single most effective substance used to test for bacterial contamination in commercial drugs and medical equipment. The Food and Drug Administration requires all injectable and intravenous drugs to be tested with LAL.

LAL is also used to diagnose certain diseases such as spinal meningitis. Since infectious diseases are the third cause of death in the U.S. and the leading cause of death worldwide, the blood of horseshoe crabs plays an important role in defense against pathogens. Proteins in the blood are being tested as antibiotics, anti-virals and anti-cancer agents. Bacteria are everywhere - from our intestinal tract, to soils, rivers, and oceans. For the most part, bacteria are beneficial. Sometimes, however, bacteria cause disease. Gram-negative bacteria is commonly in our air and water, but when released into the bloodstream can cause potentially fatal fevers. Gram-negative diseases are spinal meningitis, typhoid, gonorrhea, food poisoning, cholera, tetanus, and toxic shock syndrome. I can attest to the seriousness of these bacteria. While working on this article, for the first time in my life, I got salmonella food poisoning from some ground turkey, even though I bought it at a reputable store, renown for the purity of its meat, and even though I brought it home next to a bag of ice. It took a long time to work it out of my system.

Their blood may soon be used by astronauts to detect life on Mars and other planets. So, you see, this amazing power animal has furthered research in detecting, containing and eliminating disease. This is an excellent totem to work with to enhance your immune system, or when you have an auto-immune condition.

Normally blood testing does not hurt the animal, and they are then returned to the water, relatively unharmed; however, recent studies indicate mortality rates of anywhere from 3% to 30% in bled horseshoes. Happily, a synthetic toxin-neutralizing protein (ENP) has been discovered, eliminating the need to use live horseshoe crabs.

Horseshoe crabs are an important part of the ecology of coastal communities. This species has met all threats to its survival for over 300 million years, except possibly its last test - destruction by mankind. Luckily, they have survived the onslaughts of man and predator pretty well until recently. They can survive vast fluctuations in temperature, and quantities of radiation that would kill a human. Many years ago, Atlantic coast estuaries, beaches, coves, and marshes were covered with horseshoe crabs. Declining numbers are due to over-harvesting. Thankfully, in some states, it is now illegal to harvest or possess one if you can’t prove a scientific purpose. The other reason numbers have declined is from habitat degradation through development. This has had a deleterious effect on their predators too. Migrating birds rely on horseshoe crab eggs to acquire the energy reserves needed to fly their long migration routes. Horseshoe crab eggs and larvae constitute over 50% of shorebirds’ and loggerhead turtles’ diet. Whelks, many kinds of fishes, eels, and most species of crabs depend on them as a large part of their diet. Don’t you now feel that our mysterious and fascinating totem is worth saving? So, if you see an overturned horseshoe crab on the beach, be a friend and turn this blue-blood right side-up.

In case you missed Part I of Horseshoe Crab, you can read it online at http://www.wisdom-magazine.com/Article.aspx/3191/

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for 40 years. Her work is to bring forward and disseminate the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through writing, teaching, and healing, facilitating the mystical reunion of humans with Source and Nature. For 13 years, she has been a contributing writer for Wisdom Magazine. For healing for you or your animal, training, to invite Cie to bring her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" to your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com


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