Total Pageviews

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Blue-blooded Horseshoe Crabs, Hemocyanin, and Kenneth Marshall Gordon

     The blood of horseshoe crabs (as well as cuttlefish, squid, lobster, and a variety of other marine animals) contains hemocyanin, which is copper-based, rather than hemoglobin, which is iron-based. They are the blue-bloods of the animal kingdom and their blood has amazing anti-bacterial properties. The blood sloshes around in their bodies, rather than being carried in veins and arteries.

        And their blood has powerful acti-bacterial properties that release a mass of blood-clotting granules that instantaneously clot to seal out the bad bacteria, preventing further infection. It is so valuable that pharmaceutical companies are harvesting the horse shoe crabs, removing some of their blood,


and then returning them to the sea. The link to the full NPR article (including a video of the process) is here:

     Paleontologist Richard Fortey describes the 450,000,000-year-old creatures as being akin to a Volkswagen Beetle:
"I saw a damaged horseshoe crab still trundling gamely onwards, even with a great hole punched right though its head. Looking over the beach more carefully, I noticed a lot of these war veterans; lumps out of the thorax, broken tail spikes — clearly, it must take a lot to finish these creatures off."

      Indeed, the amazing blue-blood properties of these relatives of trilobites are what have likely kept the horseshoe crab around for so many millions of years. They have lasted through the massive extinctions at the end of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras when massive extinctions wiped out large, sweeping amounts of their cousins.

       I don't have a wonderful segue to this next portion. We are all still a bit in shock here in Colorado about Ken Gordon's death last month.

       Today was the memorial service for Kenneth Marshall Gordon, one of Colorado's most respected members of the Colorado House for 8 years and then the Senate for another 8 years. 

     Ken was our neighbor when he first ran in Colorado in 1992 and my son and I put up yard signs for him. Ken introduced my then three-year-old son to then Governor Romer. Ken took no PAC money--ever. He was respected, well-liked, and he listened to everyone. He believed in the power of every voice. The Temple was packed with over 500 people from both sides of the political aisle, with friends, family, and our current Governor Hickenlooper. Ken was one of the really, really good guys.

     I learned at the service today that Ken was from a somewhat "blue-blood" Michigan family but that he preferred to make his own way, working long hours in a meat-packing plant, before he became a lawyer. He did not want help from his family. And, sadly, rather than asking his family for help to get medical care, he drove himself to the local hospital and died, of a massive heart attack, in the parking lot. Ken was 63 years old.

      This is the way I'll remember Ken--out there walking, like the horseshoe crabs. Ken walked across the state of Colorado in support of referenda for education.  If only he'd had the staying power of the horseshoe crab to be able to work more on his life's work, to love and be a loved a little more...and to walk a little further.


And the walking man walks (James Taylor),

Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)



  1. Sorry about your friend, Ken.

    Any idea why the horseshoe crab was once thought to have a single eye (whence its binomial, Limulus polyphemus)?

  2. Thanks, Jan.

    It's an odd name any way you look at it (pun intended), since poly- typically means many or much, and in the horseshoe crab's naming poly- refers to to the one-eyed Cyclops. And since they have so many eyes. Irony? No, coppery? ;-) I don't know...but will research a bit and get back to you.

    They are quite fascinating creatures. I love to watch them move.


    1. In The American Horseshoe Crab by Shuster et al, the authors describe the two small, closely-spaced eyes in the middle of the horseshoe crab's carapace as the reason for the Cyclopsian name.

    2. SS,
      Hanalei. Hmmm… Isn’t that where Jackie Paper and Puff the Magic Dragon vacationed/frolicked?

      Speaking of cartoon characters at leisure, I understand that the Flintstones celebrated all their wedding anniversaries by flying via pterodactyl (on Ptero-soar Airlines) to Hawaii and enjoying second, third, fourth… nth honeymoons at a resort on Oodabbadab Bay, thereby turning back both time and, literally, Fred’s favorite whoop of jubilation.

      Alas, my knowledge of geology begins and ends with the Flintstones. Seriously, I hope you and yours are relaxing and enjoying your time in paradise, sipping tiki bar Blue Hawaiis on the rocks. But I know you are probably also “engeo-ying” your time drinking in the beauty of exotic rocks on Hawaii’s blue-bay-bordered sandbars.

      More seriously, my condolences on the loss of your friend Ken Gordon. He sounds like a guy I would have voted for. Your walking/blue blood analogy with the horseshoe crab was nice. Sounds like Mr. Gordon had a wealth of red-blooded passion for social justice but was just lacking in dumb horseshoe luck. Age 63. Too young for one who used his time so well for the good of all. As Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, “when bad things happen to good people” we can only trust God knows what he’s doing.


    3. Thanks, Lego. Ken's partner, Betty Lehman, wrote that whenever she asked Ken what he was thinking about he'd answer either democracy or Michigan football. How can you not love a guy who says that?

      We walked in a lava tube yesterday, saw and touched the shelly pahoehoe, and marveled in the dragon head to tail that makes up Hanalei Bay. Yes, "Puff the Magic Dragon" was ear-worming me all day. Every sense is so heightened here. The rain just appears~~drenching, then misting, then gone. The smells are more embedded in the air. The ahi is a fresh, red whisper. . .

      Wonder what Tuesday's writing will bring. . .Aloha!