what do horse shoe crabs eat

What Do Horseshoe Crabs Eat?

Written by: Akeem Eletu
Last updated on:

Horseshoe crabs are a marvel. Their unique shape, tail eating habits, and longevity make them an interesting marine life for your aquarium. 

But “What do horseshoe crabs eat?”

Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crabs are a special kind of crab in the animal kingdom. They are the only members of the Xiphosura order. Although they are called Horseshoe crabs, they are not real crabs. 

Horseshoe crabs are chelicerates, closely related to arachnids, instead of crustaceans.

They are called living fossils because they are part of the oldest living creatures on the planet. Horseshoe crabs have a strong protective shell on which their compound eyes are located. The shells help protect their delicate organs. 

Many other smaller organisms also rest on their shells. 

Horseshoe crabs also have a sharp tail that helps them navigate in the water. 

Horseshoe crabs are endemic to coastal waters where the soil is soft and muddy. They stay close to the tides which can easily carry them offshore to mate. 

There are four different horseshoe crabs species, and they include:

  • Atlantic horseshoe crab
  • The tri-spine horseshoe crabs
  • Mangrove horseshoe crab
  • Indo-pacific horseshoe crabs

All species of this living fossil have a gizzard, which helps them grind their foods similar to birds’ habits. They also have muscles under their bellies for movement and gills for breathing.

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What Do Horseshoe Crabs Eat?

Horseshoe crabs feed on smaller organisms in the sea, just like many other omnivores. 

In the wild, the main diet of a horseshoe crab includes smaller crustaceans, sea slugs, worms, algae, dead fish, small bi-valves, and many other members of the Mollusca phylum. They are notorious for scavenging at night.

Bi-valves such as clams, oysters and scallops offer them many nutritional benefits. Nutrients in clams include protein, carbohydrates, omega 3 and 6 fats, etc. Some of the vitamins clams offer include vitamins B12, C, B2, B3, A, and B1.

They also contain calcium for your pet.

Worms, on the other hand, are a great source of protein for the healthy development of body tissues and have a very high level of amino acid. 

This makes them a pretty good choice for baby and juvenile horseshoe crabs.

They are also great for older horseshoe crabs because they improve tissue repair and help them break down food faster.

Feeder fish is another great food option. They are an excellent source of protein. You can start your small and juvenile horseshoe crabs with fish. But you also want to give them various other food options. 

They are strong enough to eat what adult horseshoe crabs eat.

When these living fossils come in contact with their food, they crush it first with their front legs before sending it into their mouth. This is because they do not have teeth or jaws to chew food for easy digestion.

Their front legs help dig up clams or crustaceans stuck in the mud. The front legs are also used for crushing and pushing the crushed food down their mouths.

What Do Juvenile Horseshoe Crabs Eat?

You can feed baby horseshoe crabs the same kinds of food as adults. Lucky for you, they are not picky eaters. 

While you can choose to feed some adult horseshoe crabs once every 48 hours, juveniles should be fed daily. Feeding once a day at least will relieve the baby horseshoe crabs of hunger and reduce the chances of having them feed on their tank buddies.

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How To Feed Horseshoe Crabs

It would be best to feed soft mollusks like soft clams, especially at their young age. You want to tear the food into bite sizes as much as you can. 

This will help your juvenile horseshoe crab access the food faster rather than waste time crushing the prey’s shell.

Calcium is necessary for their healthy development. So it would be best to feed food options that provide calcium. 

All you have to do is place the food in front of the horseshoe crab. It will pick the food, crush it with its mandibles and force it up its mouth.

If you are feeding them seafood like clams, scallops, and similar food items, you want to rip the fleshy part off the shell and offer that flesh to your horseshoe crabs. This saves them the time and struggle of crushing the prey for food.

Also, if you are feeding smaller crustaceans with soft exoskeletons like shrimps, you can feed directly without stripping the exoskeletons. But you want to choose the appropriate size for your pet.

When Is The Best Time to Feed Horseshoe Crabs?

You can feed your horseshoe crabs any time of the day. In the wild, horseshoe crabs are reputed for being nocturnal hunters. They roam the sea bed at night, hunting and digging up their prey.

So if you want to mimic their natural feeding time, you can feed them during the nighttime.

However, some hobbyists in the aquarium trade report that they also eat during the day if fed. 

You can also dim the lights to trick them into thinking it is night time as this will encourage them to eat.

Final Thoughts

Feeding your horseshoe crabs right is one of the best ways to help your pets live a long and healthy life.

But doing this requires the right knowledge about what to feed your pets, how best to feed them and how often to feed them. 

This article is a good starting point for raising healthy horseshoe crabs.

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