A prehistoric looking horseshoe crab is bathed in the warm light of the morning sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay near Mathews, Va. Horseshoe crabs are considered to be living fossils because their appearance has not changed since their origin…

Horseshoe crabs at risk of extinction in some parts of the U.S.

Floridians urged to monitor species' mating habits

Ecologists have only a vague understanding of how horseshoe crabs are doing, especially in Florida. So the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is urging people to report sightings of the prehistoric crabs mating. That way they'll know the most important horseshoe crab spawning habitats to protect, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.

"These sightings are extremely valuable because we can't cover the whole Florida coastline," said Claire Crowley, research scientist at  the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

These fearsome-looking prehistoric creatures have survived multiple global mass extinction events. The fear, though, is they may not survive us. They're already endangered in Japan. And recent research shows they appear to be facing extinction in other areas, mostly due to encroachment on their beach habitats, pollution and over harvesting for everything from food to medicine.

Chitin, a substance found in their shells, can be used to make hair sprays, contact lenses, skin creams, antacids, surgical sutures, and products that promote weight-loss or lower blood pressure. Chitin also is used to remove metals and chemicals from wastewater.

The Chinese consider horseshoe crabs a delicacy. Fishermen use them for bait.

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