For now, female ‘living fossils’ avoid threat of harvesting

New legislation adopts the Dryptosauridae, smaller cousin of T-Rex, as state dinosaur
December 9, 2022

A few years ago, as part of a series on the state’s new aquaculture program, I went out with Dewey’s Chris Redefer to see his oyster-growing operation in Rehoboth Bay. At the time, he was the first person in the state to put growing cages in the water under the program. It’s tough to beat a sunny day on the water in June around here and it’s assignments like those that make sitting through hours-long meetings bearable.

To get photos, I waded into the bay’s waste-deep water. While standing there, I’ll never forget the unexpected feeling of having the spiny feet of an unseen horseshoe crab begin to make its way across my foot. It wasn’t doing anything other than making its way across the bay’s silty bottom, but still, it felt like how I would imagine it would feel if Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas was tapping his bony fingers away on my foot.

I was reminded of this encounter a couple of weeks ago, when, as part of its monthly newsletter, the Center for the Inland Bays said the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission had recently voted to maintain a zero female horseshoe crab harvest for the 2023 season, because of unknown impacts to the threatened shorebirds that rely on horseshoe crab eggs as a critical food source. The commission had proposed changes to allow the harvest of female horseshoe crabs for bait.

The commission’s decision is positive news for this "living fossil" and the species that depend on them, said the newsletter. However, the newsletter was also quick to point out that the commission, a 15-state organization made up of the state’s boarding the Atlantic Ocean, could revisit female harvesting in the future. I hope the commission doesn’t revisit this issue, and if it does, only to preserve the zero-harvest rule for females into perpetuity. 

The helmet-wearing, spear-tailed horseshoe crab is an interesting animal and it’s taken an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it-approach to survival – it’s been around for hundreds of millions of years and has existed relatively unchanged. Here’s to hoping humans aren’t the reason it does.

Delaware’s state dinosaur

Over the years, many things have been designated as official representations of the state of Delaware – the state tree is the American Holly; the state flower is the peach blossom; the state bug is the lady bug; the state butterfly is the tiger swallowtail; the state fruit is the strawberry; the state marine animal is the horseshoe crab; and on and on…

Well that list got a little bit longer not too long ago, when Gov. John Carney signed into law House Bill 390. The bill designates the Dryptosauridae as the official state dinosaur. According to the synopsis accompanying the bill, bones of this dinosaur, which can be up to 8 feet tall, have been found in the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal; it was a bird-like predator related to the Tyrannosaurus rex; and it relied on speed to hunt and avoid other predators.

Joke of the Week:

At this point in the column, I’m sure you’re all wondering – if you’re still reading – if I can go three for three on topics about something millions of years old. Yes, I can. Randomly, John, always in the mood for a “good” joke, happened to submit this one a couple of weeks before the fisheries commission’s decision on horseshoe crabs. It’s been slightly reworked, but it’s got the same bones. As always, send joke submission to

Q: Have you heard about the latest fossil finds out in North Dakota?

A: A team found the largest tibia bone ever found. Apparently, the crew is very excited and it’s turning into quite the shindig.


  • Chris Flood has lived in or visited family in Delaware his whole life. He grew up in Maine, but a block of scrapple was always in the freezer of his parents’ house during his childhood. Contact him at

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