A Long Way From Home
by Julia Jacobs
People are not the only visitors to the Delaware Bay area for the horseshoe crab spawning season. Many other animals and birds are attracted by the eggs as well. One of these bird visitors, called the Red Knot, makes a pit stop on its long journey from one of the poles to the other. Red Knots travel 9,300 miles from Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of Argentina, to the Northern Arctic Circle. During their migration they lose close to 2/3 of their body weight and must stop to refuel. The eggs laid by the horseshoe crabs create a royal feast for the birds.
My recent drive up to Delaware was not nearly as long as the Red Knot’s journey. I can attest that the birders were well outnumbered by the birds at each of the beaches I visited. Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, and many other birds flocked in so thick that from a distance they looked like the sand itself. While the fact that these birds can travel this far is amazing, they cannot complete the migration alone.
The phrase “no crabs, no knots” has a catchy sound, but it has an even greater significance. The migration of the Red Knots is perfectly timed because they need the horseshoe crabs to survive. While laying the eggs ensures the next generation of horseshoe crabs, it also is key for the next generation of Red Knots. Without the eggs from the horseshoe crabs, the Red Knots would not survive. Eventually both the birds and birders continued their ventures, but come next spring the Red Knots will inevitably return.
Julia Jacobs is a summer intern in The Naturalist Center. She is a sophomore at North Carolina State University in the Natural Resources program and has a passion for photography.