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Horseshoe crab blood is vital in vaccine development — but they're starting to disappear

A prehistoric looking horseshoe crab is bathed in the warm light of the morning sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay near Mathews, Va., Friday, Sept. 14, 2007. Horseshoe crabs are considered to be living fossils because their appearance has not changed since their origin over 20 million years ago. (AP)
A prehistoric looking horseshoe crab is bathed in the warm light of the morning sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay near Mathews, Va., Friday, Sept. 14, 2007. Horseshoe crabs are considered to be living fossils because their appearance has not changed since their origin over 20 million years ago. (AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

Imagine this: it's nighttime along the New England coast, and spiny, ten-legged creatures, 450 million years old, come crawling out of the ocean to mate.

Human hunters are there to meet them — to drain them of their valuable blue blood, which the humans need for medicines to help keep their fragile bodies alive.

That is not science fiction. That is today. These are horseshoe crabs, and the industry surrounding their valuable blood has taken on new significance amidst the race for coronavirus vaccines.

Ipswich-based science writer Bill Sargent is an expert on horseshoe crabs — he literally wrote the book on them. Sargent is the author of twenty-seven books, including "Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Ecology, and Human Health," and he joins us to share their strange story.

This segment aired on November 4, 2021. The audio for this segment is not available.

Tiziana Dearing Twitter Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

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Walter Wuthmann Twitter Associate Producer
Walter Wuthmann is an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom.

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