Sublethal behavioral and physiological effects of the biomedical bleeding process on the American horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus

Biol Bull. 2013 Dec;225(3):137-51. doi: 10.1086/BBLv225n3p137.


The hemolymph of the American horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, is harvested from over 500,000 animals annually to produce Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), a medically important product used to detect pathogenic bacteria. Declining abundance of spawning Limulus females in heavily harvested regions suggests deleterious effects of this activity, and while mortality rates of the harvest process are known to be 10%-30%, sublethal behavioral and physiological effects are not known. In this study, we determined the impact of the harvest process on locomotion and hemocyanin levels of 28 female horseshoe crabs. While mortality rates after bleeding (18%) were similar to previous studies, we found significant decreases in the linear and angular velocity of freely moving animals, as well as changes in their activity levels and expression of circatidal behavioral rhythms. Further, we found reductions in hemocyanin levels, which may alter immune function and cuticle integrity. These previously unrecognized behavioral and physiological deficits suggest that the harvest of LAL may decrease female fitness, and thus may contribute to the current population decline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Hemocyanins / analysis
  • Hemolymph / physiology
  • Hemorrhage / mortality
  • Hemorrhage / veterinary*
  • Horseshoe Crabs / immunology
  • Horseshoe Crabs / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • United States


  • Hemocyanins