BLUE BLOODED BARANGKAS

Animal Scene - - PALAWAN ENCOUNTERS -

On my lat­est visit to Manong Valdez’s, I saw in his “coopantry” the Godzilla of crabs: the Horse­shoe crab or Barangkas. Funny thing though, the Horse­shoe Crab is not ac­tu­ally a true crab. Ac­cord­ing to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion, Horse­shoe Crabs are more closely re­lated to spi­ders and scor­pi­ons (arach­nids) than to crabs. Maybe this ex­plains why the un­der­side of the Barangkas looks like some­thing that came out of a hor­ror movie. The re­search cen­ter states that the Barangkas pre­dated the di­nosaurs and the de­sign of their body has changed lit­tle since the rule of the mighty T-rex. It says that presently, there are only four known species of the Horse­shoe crab. One species is found in North Amer­ica, while the other three can be found in Asia.

Every­time I see a Barangkas, I am al­ways re­minded of a sol­dier’s hel­met, be­cause this is how they look like when stick­ing out from the wa­ter or sand. I es­ti­mate the big­gest Barangkas that I have en­coun­tered would be about ¾ of a meter in to­tal length, with the tail ac­count­ing for more than half the length. I was sur­prised to see this spec­i­men at Manong Wil­son’s place be­cause it was very near the ¾ meter mark. As I did not have a mea­sur­ing tape with me, I had my son pick it up so I could gauge its size rel­a­tive to my son’s height. Know­ing that they are so much rarer now, I con­sider my­self very lucky to have seen and taken pic­tures of a spec­i­men that big. Dur­ing my child­hood, there were some oc­ca­sions when we would lit­er­ally run into a Barangkas while play­ing in shal­low wa­ters. It would raise up its tail threat­en­ingly in a de­fen­sive pos­ture. This used to scare me. But now, know­ing bet­ter, there re­ally isn’t much that the Barangkas can do against a hu­man be­ing, even a small child. In fact, it would be more to its ad­van­tage if it stays still or plays dead, be­cause the eas­i­est way to han­dle it or catch it is to grab it by the tail. The tail, while hav­ing a sharp pin­na­cle at the rear, does not present any dan­ger to any­one, un­less you poke your­self with it or ac­ci­den­tally step on it. A word of cau­tion: if you ever do come across a Barangkas, do not lift it up by its tail. This will injure the an­i­mal by tear­ing the mus­cles and con­nec­tive tis­sues on the junc­tion area of the tail to the body. This is par­tic­u­larly true for big­ger and heav­ier spec­i­mens. With­out a tail or with in­juries on the junc­tion area, the Barangkas can­not nav­i­gate prop­erly. This is what I have ob­served with the Barangkas that I have res­cued from lo­cal kids. They usu­ally have par­tially or to­tally torn tails.

A Barangkas out of wa­ter, even with a healthy tail at­tached, has to ex­ert a lot of ef­fort just to crawl for a few me­ters. In the wa­ter, it is still slug­gish but can move about with less strug­gle. Imag­ine a vin­tage war tank try­ing to nav­i­gate in the soft sand. That’s how the Barangkas move about. I have taught my son to han­dle it care­fully, by lift­ing it up by the cara­pace where most of the weight is, and with the other hand on the side of the cara­pace or the tail just for bal­ance. Aside from my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences with the Barangkas, some of the knowl­edge that I have of this an­i­mal came from se­niors like my un­cle, a li­censed med­i­cal physi­cian and an en­to­mol­o­gist on the side. He is an avid col­lec­tor of in­sects and arach­nids and he also has a few spec­i­mens of Horse­shoe crab in his “lab.” He said that Horse­shoe crabs have nu­mer­ous pairs of eyes parts (ex­cept for the tail, of course). I do not fully un­der­stand how th­ese eyes work and it never oc­curred to me to look for the eyes of the Barangkas that I have come across. I have to re­mem­ber to look for the eyes in my next en­counter with this crea­ture. As for the gen­eral ap­pear­ance of the Barangkas, I think it would be for the best for me not to ex­plain it in writ­ing. Not only that $% "of the mag­a­zine, some read­ers would prob­a­bly imag­ine an en­tirely & this rea­son, I have taken a lot of pic­tures of it from dif­fer­ent an­gles. The pic­tures i have are taken of two dif­fer­ent spec­i­mens, both of re­specta­bles sizes. Ac­cord­ing to my un­cle (and what I hap­pened to catch on Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel), re­search cen­ters in Tai­wan and USA har­vest the blue blood of the Barangkas for med­i­cal pur­poses. The blood of th­ese an­i­mals has the unique abil­ity to re­act in the pres­ence of bac­te­rial en­do­tox­ins, and this makes them in­valu­able in the med­i­cal field. There are is­sues as to how the blood can be har­vested with­out caus­ing per­ma­nent harm to the Barangkas, but I am not knowl­edge­able enough to com­ment. What I know for sure is that the old lo­cals used to con­sume Barangkas as food. In fact, my un­cle said that he has tasted Horse­shoe Crab meat. He said it is a lit­tle bland com­pared to reg­u­lar crab meat and some­times has a bluish hue, which makes other peo­ple hes­i­tant to eat it. While the Barangkas is not yet en­dan­gered, their num­bers have been on the de­cline. In Asia, habi­tat de­struc­tion, hu­man ac­tiv­ity, and con­sump­tion as food are ma­jor fac­tors. In more de­vel­oped

coun­tries, the ma­jor threats to the Horse­shoe Crab are the un­sus­tain­able har­vest of its blood and hu­man ac­tiv­ity. For peo­ple like me, who had reg­u­lar en­coun­ters with this crea­ture, we are aware of how much rarer they have be­come. How­ever, the im­me­di­ate con­cern is not the ex­tinc­tion of the Barangkas. They are such an im­por­tant part of the ecosys­tem that a de­cline in their num­bers will have a big and neg­a­tive im­pact on other an­i­mals. Be­cause of their re­pro­duc­tive be­hav­ior and the thou­sands of eggs they lay in a sin­gle mat­ing sea­son, Horse­shoe crab eggs are an im­por­tant food source to many kinds of an­i­mals. In some ar­eas, they are a vi­tal source of food for mi­gra­tory birds, who need the im­por­tant recharge af­ter a very " " ' thou­sands of hatch­lings are also an im­por­tant food source for the sea crea­tures in the im­me­di­ate area. For this rea­son, the im­por­tance of this an­i­mal, and the preven­tion of its ex­tinc­tion can­not be un­der­stated. Sav­ing the Barangkas is also sav­ing all the an­i­mals that de­pend on it for their food. A com­mon prob­lem of an­i­mals I have writ­ten about is that they are heav­ily Our ap­a­thy to our sur­round­ings and our ir­re­spon­si­ble life­styles are caus­ing th­ese an­i­mals to strug­gle just to ex­ist. Seem­ingly in­no­cent ac­tiv­i­ties such as rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles on the sand, beach par­ty­ing, or trans­fer­ring sand from the beach to our back­yard play­grounds are ac­tu­ally detri­men­tal to the ecosys­tem. The ab­sence of reg­u­la­tion on the use of an­chors in fa­mous lo­ca­tions such as El Nido and Honda Bay is also a ma­jor cause of harm. Co­rals and sand dwelling crea­tures are threat­ened by the in­dis­crim­i­nate drop­ping of an­chors. I hope each of us will try to be a lit­tle more sen­si­tive as to what we do dur­ing our ex­cur­sions. Go­ing back to this im­pres­sive spec­i­men of Barangkas, I am glad to point out that we were able to con­vince Manong to re­lease this liv­ing fos­sil back to the wa­ter "

Horse­shoe crab crawl­ing

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