Horseshoe Crabs Play a Big Role in Modern Medicine

Written by on May 26, 2014 in Marine Life

SciShow‘s Hank Green is right: “Horseshoe crabs are super old, super cool, and they deserve your respect.”

Horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus.

Horseshoe crab. Photo credit: NOAA.

Have you ever received a vaccine or drug through injection? You can thank horseshoe crabs for ensuring that injection was bacteria-free.

Horseshoe crabs have amazing blood with some unique properties. Not only is it blue, but their blood cells have a chemical that binds to and inactivates unwanted bacteria, viruses and fungi, by creating a gooey mass around the infective agents, which prevents them from spreading. This chemical is found only in horseshoe crab blood.

So how do we get a hold of that blood? The process, which involves piercing the tissue around the horseshoe crab’s heart and draining 30 percent of their blood, seems a little harsh, but it isn’t (usually) fatal.

To learn more, check out the latest SciShow video: Horseshoe Crabs Saved My Life.

For an even more detailed account, read this piece from The Atlantic: The Blood Harvest.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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