5 species you may spot at the Jersey Shore this weekend

If you look carefully, you can find plenty of different kinds of creatures on your trip to the Jersey shore! In fact, you can find so many that I’ll be narrowing it down to talk about only five animals: minnows, fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, comb jellies and smooth dogfish. Coincidentally, they just happen to be my favorite.

#1 – Minnows

First, minnows! I’m sure everyone has seen tons of these little guys swimming around your feet. A couple common ones are silversides and mummichogs. Silversides are found in schools and have a bright silver stripe down the side of their bodies. We actually have an exhibit of silversides at the aquarium, where you can see them school and change formation. The mummichogs can be found in muddy marshes, channels, and grass flats along coastal areas. They are euryhalide, which means they can adapt to a wide range of salinities. Their heartiness probably helped them to become the first fish in space!

#2 – Fiddler Crabs

Fiddler Crab
These guys are found mostly in the muddy areas of marshes too. If you look down and see little tunnels in the mud, you’ll eventually see them crawl out to defend their burrows or hunt for food. The females have two equally sized claws, but the males have one regular sized claw and one HUGE claw that is about half of the weight of his only body. The males use this big claw to pick up the ladies. They wave the claw to make an acoustical signal.

#3 – Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe Crabs

You’re probably thinking, “hey, another crab??” but technically they aren’t crustaceans at all! Horseshoe crabs belong to their own class, Merostomata. They even predate dinosaurs! If you see any on the beach during the day, it is most likely a horseshoe crab molt. But if you go out at night time, they look like little walking army helmets with a long tail. They use the long tail to flip themselves over not as a weapon. Horseshoe crabs are highly valued because of their blue blood. Medical researchers use it to test drugs and vaccines to make sure there is no bacterium contamination. To help increase the population, Adventure Aquarium’s senior biologist, Matt Ferroni has led the horseshoe crab head-start program. Baby horseshoe crabs were collected then raised in our holding systems and this year we released them back into their environment.

#4 – Comb Jellies

Comb Jellies
Comb jellies are one of my favorites finds in the ocean. Comb jellies or ctenophore are oval shaped and have comb like plates to help them swim through the water. They can expand their stomach to hold prey about half the size of their own body! If disturbed in a dark environment, some comb jellies give off a bright green luminescent flash.

#5 – Smooth Dogfish


And last but not least, smooth dogfish. They like shallow waters less than 60 feet deep. If you are a fisherman you probably have caught one at some point or another. They can get up to about 5 feet long. Dogfish are usually nocturnal and have pavement-like teeth. These crushing teeth help them open their favorite foods: crustaceans.

On your next trip to the shore, keep an eye out for these 5 common Jersey shore natives!

By: Sarah Stafford, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates 


Adventure Aquarium releases more than 50 Horseshoe crabs into the Delaware Bay off Cape May

Exciting news in the conservation of a dwindling species! Yesterday, researchers from Adventure Aquarium and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey released 50 juvenile horseshoe crabs back into the Delaware Bay in Cape May County. The juveniles, which were 2 and 3 years old, were part of our Horseshoe Crab Head-Start Program.


Starting in July 2011 and led by Adventure Aquarium biologist Matt Ferroni, the program gives horseshoe crabs a better chance of survival and reproduction in the wild (learn more here). Because as far as misunderstood creatures go, horseshoe crabs certainly get a bad rap. They look scary and menacing, but are in reality perfectly harmless creatures that inhabit the same shoreline that you and I visit every summer.  In fact, the Delaware Bay is home to one of the largest populations of horseshoe crabs in the world!  However, few people would even guess that this number is dwindling.  The horseshoe crab which has existed on earth since the time of the dinosaurs is facing a population decline, which has a ripple effect in the ecosystem.   The many endangered migratory birds that feed on their eggs each year along the Bay (i.e. the Red Knot) and sea turtles depend on horseshoe crabs for food.

The crabs were ready to be released!

Each crab was tagged with a coded wire tag that allows Adventure Aquarium biologists to identify the crabs in the future. 

Matt carries a couple horseshoe crabs out to the release area.

Matt carries a couple horseshoe crabs out to the release area.

Over 50 horseshoe crabs were released into the Delaware Bay

Over 50 horseshoe crabs were released into the Delaware Bay

Survival rates for horseshoe crabs in the wild are very low. For example, a single female horseshoe crab can lay up to 80,000 eggs on the Delaware Bay, but it’s estimated that only 10 of those 80,000 reach adulthood.  Thanks to the Aquariums biologists, the survival rate of the juveniles has improved to 35%. Each crab that is collected gets tagged with a coded wire tag that allows Adventure Aquarium biologists to identify the crabs in the future.  The hope is that the tags will be retained through the horseshoe crab molts to allow for future studies.

Our team anticipates a release each year going forward, as more eggs are collected and raised to juvenile crabs each year. So the story continues! Be sure to stay tuned for ongoing updates on Adventure Aquarium’s horseshoe crab conservation efforts.

Adventure Aquarium Biologist Leads Local Horseshoe Crab Conservation Efforts

By: Matt Ferroni, Senior Biologist

Hello my name is Matt Ferroni, and I’m a Senior Biologist here at Adventure Aquarium. While my main responsibilities include overseeing our 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit and several holding systems, I am also in charge of our Horseshoe Crab Head-Start Program, which began in July of 2011.

Over the past few decades Horseshoe Crabs have been harvested for use as eel and conch bait, as well as by the biomedical industry for the production of LAL (limulus amoebocyte lysate), which is produced from Horseshoe Crab blood. LAL is used to screen surgical implants, intravenous drugs, and vaccines for bacteria that could otherwise make you very ill. For that reason alone, Horseshoe Crabs are incredibly important to humans.

Horseshoe Crabs also serve a very important ecological role. Every spring and summer, females crawl onto the beaches of the Delaware Bay and lay eggs, sometimes up to 80,000 in one season. It is said that of these 80,000 eggs only ten might reach adulthood. So what happens to the rest of them? Unfortunately the majority of the eggs and hatchlings are eaten by fish, crabs, and even shorebirds. In fact, these eggs are the only food source for the threatened Red Knot, a migratory shorebird that stops in the Delaware Bay during its 10,000 mile flight from southern Chile to the Canadian Arctic.

Without these eggs as a food source, the Red Knot cannot finish the flight to its breeding grounds and many have perished as a result. Horseshoe Crabs are also an important prey item for sea turtles, and their numbers could directly influence the health of turtle populations.

For the reasons mentioned above, we felt it was important to get involved in helping to increase the Horseshoe Crab population. In July of 2011 I traveled to Kimbles Beach in Cape May Court House, NJ with Dr. Dan Hernandez of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Dan helped me locate and excavate several clutches of eggs that were buried below the surface.


Excavating Horseshoe Crab Eggs

The eggs were brought back to Adventure Aquarium where they hatched and have been growing ever since. This process has been repeated every year and each year we are even more successful. Come this summer Adventure Aquarium will be releasing hundreds of crabs from both the 2011 and 2012 collections. These Horseshoe Crabs grow faster than those in the wild due to the conditions we raise them in as well as the food that they receive.

Each morning I come into work eager to see how many new molts there are, I then separate the crabs according to size, and offer them different food items based on those sizes.

It has been truly incredible watching these animals grow from just a few millimeters to the size of my hand in what is actually a very short period of time. I am excited to release these animals back into their environment and look forward to collecting some more eggs this summer.

Horseshoe Crab developing in the egg

Horseshoe Crab developing in the egg

Trilobite Larvae

Trilobite Larvae

Trilobite Larvae 0.3 cm 1 day old

Trilobite Larvae 0.3 cm 1 day old

2nd Instar.  One week old (now has a tail)

2nd Instar. One week old (now has a tail)

6th Instar 2 months old

6th Instar 2 months old


11th Instar 1 year old

11th Instar 1 year old

14th Instar 2 yrs 9 months

14th Instar 2 yrs 9 months