Sumner Students Help Count Horseshoe Crab Populations in Taunton Bay

What can a species “older than dinosaurs” teach us about the importance of citizen science in the modern world? For eighth-grade students from RSU 24’s Sumner Learning Campus, all it took was a visit to the mud banks of Taunton Bay to find out.

Atlantic horseshoe crabs have been around for over 450 million years, making them one of the oldest surviving species found on Earth. Maine’s coastline represents the Northern end of the horseshoe crabs’ range, making population monitoring especially important to understanding species trends.

As part of a “Fun Friday” adventure, eighth-grade citizen scientists from Ms. Sarah Hooper’s 8th grade Middle School Life class and a high school mentor from Mrs. Ellen Hall’s High School Biology class visited the Bay recently to count horseshoe crab populations and learn more about the species. While observing the arthropods, students learned how to conduct field studies, collect data, and evaluate trends over time.

Dr. Frank Dorsey, a retired biostatistician, talked to the students over lunch about the value of collecting and monitoring population data and answered students’ questions. He stressed the value of population data to a broader understanding of the impact rising water temperatures and an increased presence of green crabs could have on the horseshoe crabs.

The elusive creatures are rarely seen outside of a short mating season in May and June. This makes the late spring an especially important time to research on the species. The warm water temperatures meant that students were able to spot the arthropods moving around and feeding. In total, students observed 15 solo horseshoe crabs and two pairs during their trip.

In addition to collecting data on the living population of Taunton Bay, students also got a close-up look at dead horseshoe crabs to learn about the species’ anatomy.

The data students collected on the trip contributed to a decades-long effort by researchers to monitor populations of horseshoe crabs in Taunton Bay. “These are the types of learning experiences that we hope to establish throughout all of our classrooms – real-world applications that get our students involved in active learning,” Principal Jackson Green said about the experience.

The Maine DOE encourages all schools and districts across the State of Maine to learn more about opportunities to expand access to outdoor learning. Department initiatives including the RREV Outdoor Learning Accelerator Program and Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative help to fund innovative projects involving students in outdoor and environmental learning.

This story was submitted by Sumner Middle & Memorial High School Principal Jackson Green in collaboration with Maine DOE Intern Ryan Hafener as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign.