These creatures look like something out of an Alien vs Predator movie. But Horseshoe Crabs or more commonly known as “belangkas” in Malay have been around for 450 million years, making them older than the very dinosaurs who plodded around on planet Earth.
Despite its name and crab-like shell, Horseshoe Crabs are not crustaceans but related to the spider and scorpion family.
The Great Dying wiped out most of the earth’s species but the strange-looking but obviously resilient Horseshoe Crabs, with its armoured shell and long rigid pointed tail, lived on.
Despite surviving the natural catastrophe and living for years thereafter, their numbers are now dwindling dangerously.
In Malaysia, these living fossils are hunted for their roe. Having very little meat on them, they are grilled, flipped over, and the coveted roe dug out and eaten.
The roe is prized in Malaysia as it is considered an aphrodisiac and a quick online search reveals a box of frozen Horseshoe Crab roe retails at RM25.
Meanwhile, barbecued Horseshoe Crabs carry a price tag of RM35 that die-hard customers are willing to fork out the cash for. Just scroll through social media and you can easily find food sites recommending restaurants that sell this exotic dish.
Unknown to many, the Horseshoe Crab has blue blood. No, it’s not royal in any way, but science points to the haemocyanin in its blood which contains copper, and turns blue when it reacts with oxygen.
The blood of humans on the other hand is red because of the iron molecules in it which react with oxygen in haemoglobin.
In the 1960s, scientists discovered the blood of Horseshoe Crabs could be used to detect even the smallest amounts of harmful bacteria. Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has used these crabs to ensure injections, vaccines and surgical implants are free from contamination.
Demand for their blood is high and a litre of its magical elixir will set you back a whopping RM63,000 in the US.
Recent evidence shows that Asian Horseshoe Crabs are facing serious threats due to the degradation of their spawning grounds and habitat, environmental pollution, overexploitation as a culinary delicacy and biomedical bleeding practices.
What will it take for people to stop consuming Horseshoe Crabs in Malaysia? Another Covid-19 outbreak?
The Covid-19 virus is believed to have originated from a wildlife wet market in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China, which sold snakes and bats, as well as other exotic wildlife, for consumption.
In Sabah, the number of Horseshoe Crabs has declined so drastically, it is on the verge of disappearing altogether due to the loss of mangroves that are its natural habitat.
In Peninsular Malaysia, Horseshoe Crabs are consumed in a number of ways — grilled, boiled, cooked in “sambal”, “masak lemak cili padi” and as part of “kerabu”.
Time for every human to be a little less self-involved and a whole lot more considerate about the animals they share planet Earth with.