Ready or not, it’s time to watch horseshoe mating crabs

It’s horseshoe crab mating season, when they do it in public and Florida beach goers are encouraged to watch closely in the name of science. The unseemly public attention doesn’t seem to faze the crabs a bit.

Does that make it okay? You’ll have to decide for yourself. If your answer is yes, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission wants you to take careful notes and send the info to its biologists.

There’s an online scorecard you’re supposed to use. To avoid being mistaken for a mere voyeur, print several copies and carry them to the beach on a clipboard. If you have an ID badge from work, wearing it will help to create the impression that you’re some sort of official. A helmet would be overdoing it.

FWC wants you to report exactly where you find the crabs, how many there are and to record how many are males and how many are females. The FWC web page tells you how to tell them apart. It also wants a count of juvenile crabs, whose shells will be 4 inches wide or smaller.

There’s more yet: you must report whether the crabs are mating. If there’s a smaller one on top of a larger one, that’s the tipoff.

Did you know that male horseshoe crabs take hold of females with little hooked forelegs and ride the waves onto the beach? Of course you didn’t. Now you do.

You may find some crabs lying upside down on the sand. After determining gender, pick them up gently by opposite edges of the shell — not by the tail, please — and place them right side up at the water’s edge. No kicking; they won’t hurt you.

The best times to find horseshoe crabs mating on the beach are around high tide and within three days of a full moon (Tuesday, April 11) or a new moon (Wednesday, April 26).

For more info and the surveyor’s score sheet, go online to and click on the “contact” link. Then click on “Horseshoe Crab Nesting Activity.”