Crash: A Tale of Two Species
Video: Full Episode

This is the story of the fabric of life, and how every species is interconnected – each one important, no matter how big or small.  At its center is the humble horseshoe crab, a creature which has remained virtually unchanged for 350 million years.  Its annual spring spawning produces millions of eggs that are the lifeline for a tiny bird called the red knot, which migrates 10,000 miles from South America to the Arctic each year. Scientific and medical communities have discovered that the crab also provides an indispensable testing agent for drugs and vaccines, as well as resources for human optics and burn treatment.  But horseshoe crab numbers are plummeting from their new use as bait for the fishing industry, dropping by two-thirds or more since 1990.  And the precious pyramid depending on this age-old creature is about to come crashing down. Filmed and presented on television in high definition. Buy the DVD. This film premiered February 2008.

  • M. Schlosser

    Thank you for making this film and I hope lots of people watch this film. Education and understanding is the key to bring back eco balance which we humans destroying nature in everywhere.

  • russell hogg

    It may be a small bird but what a champion it is and we could learn so much from its physiology and enduring capabilities and learn to live in harmony with our environment instead of continuous exploitation. I hope this has a happy ending. Thank you for providing an invaluable video to provide education for our next generation.

  • A.Wondolkowski

    It’s too bad that we are at the top of the food chain and most of us don’t give a damn. What came first, us or the horse shoe crab? Who will finish last?
    From nature comes man, from man becomes nature. Conservation.
    Thank you for this film.

  • Roseann

    Thank you for making and airing this film. I think it’s monstrous for us to bring such an ancient creature this close to extinction. For an animal that survived not just one massive extinction but two, and was thriving long before we came along, it’s a pitty that humans are worse than events that killed over 95% of life on Earth.

  • S. Navarro

    I hope that we have a nuclear war, so that we can
    destroy ourselves and leave this beautiful planet
    alone.We don’t deserve to live here.I can no longer
    watch a nature show that doesn’t tell me that an
    animal or habitat has been destroyed,is being
    destroyed, or will be destroyed by us.Any animal
    and plant that survived a nuclear clearance would
    do much better than us at taking care of this
    special earth.

  • A. Angne

    why doesn’t someone lab raise the horseshoe crab at least until it is two or three years old? and if they are going to catch the birds and put them through that much stress then why not feed them while they have them in their possession? Also, if they are going to catch a portion of the birds, study and then release them why don’t they keep the birds that are underweight and make sure that they don’t die on the trip up there?

  • A. Aho

    Hmmm. A nuclear war that destroys wildlife, habitat, children, and about all else. That’d solve a lot. Methinks education would go a long way…

    Although Nature has always made an effort to educate, the reactions sometimes show it to be insufficient in that regard.

  • D. Asay

    Education would be the best, but when all interest are to continue to play GOD on the planet in every aspect of life, to rule via power and deceit it is ineveitable for man to destroy. As a Natural Resource major we can only count the days and months until Easter Island is once more. Education cotinually wants us to analyze history but we chose not to learn from it! Greed is always there to rape and pilfer, and at the same time we as humans look at only what can I do to fix it now. We chose not to look at what will fix the future, the basics of our needs to survive like our ancestors is food, shelter and water. Salinity is on the increase in farmlands, acidification, and global warming in increasing, etc…when do we stop and look at the overall picture that we do not have the right to play GOD….we are the stewards and we are not do a good job.

  • wayne young

    Thanks for this enlightening film.It’s too bad such fine efforts are still necessary. What I mean is, though extremely educational, and entertaining, it was only in the early 90’s that the issue was fully understood and any short term action was quickly

  • Denise Stevens

    they talk about extinction on television..but this story really grabs you by the heart (as one from maryland). To much damage….to little time..

  • amir

    very moving

  • martha

    First of all, thank you for this wonderful series. I love you and PBS. I appreciate that you give the various sides of a situation, but though I understand the reason for our dependence on the Horshoe Crab it was disturbing to see how they were treated in the lab. They look to be piled one on top of the other in laundry baskets, dipped and sprayed in some solutions–probably to be sanitized–strapped over their eyes and inserted with large needles to be bled. The narrator stated 18% die, but could it be higher? Afterwards they’re piled together after they’ve contributed to our well being. Has anybody observed these procedures, to understand why they are dying and where–in the lab or when they are being sent back for release? Could a more ethical way be considered? If a sentient being can’t cry out in fear or pain we don’t seem to connect the dots. Isn’t that why scientists and environmentalists are sounding the alarm on behalf of those who can’t? I believe that we can.

  • Noel Wallace

    This show is so neat, in fact it’s on right now. I try to watch Nature every Saturday and this is my favorite episode. I can sit and watch Nature all day. I really enjoyed the life of the horsesho crab. And the red knot’s migration. It would be interesting to work with animals. Thank you for such an educational show.

  • kpepper

    This episode greatly upset me. Not only because of the loss of species, but because the writers perpetuated the same outlook as those who caused such devastation–that the horseshoe crab is useful to people, and therefore its okay to treat them as a commodity. Unlike the excellent Frogs episode, where conservation was for its own sake, conservation of the crabs was portrayed as a means to an end. The end of course being more medical use and more food for the birds (though of course conserving the birds was never justified in that way). One can only assume this narration was written in such a way because the horseshoe crab is perceived to be a creepy looking creature instead of cute. The positive spin on the bleeding of crabs made me sick to my stomach. Can you imagine if they tried that argument with the red knot birds?

    I sincerely hope upcoming epsiodes don’t follow this disturbing trend, otherwise there is really no hope for conservation of unusual looking creatures.

  • John Bochenek

    Thank you for TV that captivates and educates the mind. I believe that you lead many to aspire to a better way for themselves and the planet. My hope is that your efforts will be the salvation of the beautiful red knot, and its partner in nature, the horseshoe crab.

  • Lee Daniels

    Compelling episode – congratulations to the filmmakers and to all involved with conservation. As a wildlife photographer and lifelong birder and sailor, this was eye-opening even for me. I took horseshoe crabs and red knots for granted – they’ve been there in numbers all my life. As a teacher, I took the lesson I learned from this and passed it on to my students.
    On a recent shoot in Florida, I found a banded bird at the Atlantic shore and immediately reported it to the Delaware/NJ people. I always report banded birds no matter where in the world I am, but it took on a new urgency after this episode.
    Wonderful, wonderful job.
    Kudos to all!

  • againstu

    american people r responseble 4 destroing the world beauty they are the most polutet country & war moarte va urez la toti din sua

  • T. Bailey

    Hi from Oregon. Recently (within the past 8 years) the largest salmon fishkill in recorded human history took place on the Klamath River just south of the Oregon/California border. This was directly due to actions taken by the residents of Klamath Falls (a city) and environs when they took action (with the assistance of the Bush II administration) which resulted in an extremely low river flow downstream. This single act decimated a population of fish which had been feeding tribes along the river for centuries, possibly several millennium. The Klamath Falls farmer’s response to the outcry which I remember most vividly: “who cares, it’s just one fish”. This was said directly to the face of a Native American whose livelihood had been destroyed.

    There is every likelihood that dead zones off the coast of Oregon are due to the runoff of nitrogen from agricultural practices which are still common within the state. Again, we are hearing “it’s just some fish, who cares” from those who are the most likely cause.

    I used to live in Klamath Falls. I have also lived in the Willamette Valley region – another agricultural stronghold in Oregon and the region most likely to be causing the dead zones – for much of my life. I don’t think that nuclear war or any war will solve the problem as typically war renders the environment unlivable for anything, not just humans. War is a sum of arrogance and willfull stupidity, not a resolution thereunto. Instead, entreat the arrogant, talk to them, pursue their arguments to the logical end. One may not have the answers, but one can certainly elucidate the questions. Call your politicians and THREATEN them with being fired at the next round of elections, then work to follow through on the threat if they fail to follow through on protecting our only home. We should consider slowing this nation down a bit; we over-consume, over-produce, seek constant economic growth and demand that our trading partners follow in lockstep with our consumptive ways. In the last 40 years we have evolved our nation into one where the vast majority of households with children have to be dual earner households just to stay afloat above the poverty line; just to feed, clothe and house our children.

    Understand that family farmers in the Willamette Valley and the Klamath Falls are “feeling the pinch” of the economy just like most of us are. The difference is that they always feel the pinch because farming has always been a hit or miss proposition, so they feel compelled to do whatever is necessary to protect their livelihood. Perhaps if we were to try to live by the axiom that “less is more” we might be able to survive until the next century, though I am not hopeful frankly. Less is more… Less is more… Less is more… Oh, and cotton is a terrible choice for textiles, it leaches the soil and demands more fertilization than any other crop – fiber grade hemp is a far better choice as it lasts longer, requires no fertilization in most agricultural regions and is proved to actually return nitrogen to and fix carbon in the soil. Less is more… Grow hemp for industry… Be a patriot and work for the future of your country, not the now of your wants. Pardon me, I have to go now, Zarathustra calls…

  • Nero

    What sad is that everyone hates on humans for destroying environments. Yes we have done some unjust things to our planet, more or else associated corporate doings. Most humans show more than enough consideration to our fair planet. As in all life, we as humans are also beautiful creatures and wonderful beings to behold. So dont mock us for surviving in a world that has no laws or rules on lifes path. Just to survive in it is great enough. We can nurture the environments of life much better when the corporations are gone.

  • Amanda

    This program was not only educational, but also so beautifully made that it moved me to tears. The scientists deserve praise for their efforts to understand and sustain these creatures, as do the journalists who shared this story with the public.

  • frank

    i enjoyed this film very much, very educational…didnt realize the horseshoe crab played such a huge role to humans. If only everyone knew our plant really does survive on such a delicate line and once undone can be catisrophic for all specices … sorry for the spelling eyesight is blurry

  • Brian DesCamp

    This was a really well done piece about two creatures seldom thought of, and taken for granted by so many. Those of you involved with helping “thank you”. And I also was unaware of the HS crab’s role in human health. I’m sure the rabbits appreciate them!

  • watters

    this really proves how delcate the ecosystem is

  • jim forde

    This movie has inspired a large number of my students. What a gift it is to make it available in this way!

    Jim Forde :-)
    Scofield Magnet MS

  • Cam

    A lot of people don’t give a damn what we do. We better protect where we live or else one day the food chain my break…

  • Sam

    I really love this video. My students all loved this video. We made a class project about it. It was absolutely lovely. Thank You.

  • JoeB

    Thank you so much everyone for making this film possible. Please keep going. Please help inspire more people to join this cause, in the widest sense.

  • Ray

    Scientist should place additional food (in addition to the horseshoe crab eggs) with the appropriate nutrients on the beach so that when the birds arrive they have plenty of food to fatten themselves up. The horseshoe crab should also be raised in captivity until the numbers improve.

  • Ana

    I had to review this video for a college assignment. I’m so glad my instructor, Ms. Bell, asked us to review this particular episode. The information provided opened up my eyes and made me aware of our environment. Life would not be the same without this incredible creatures. Thank you for sharing this amazing story and hope we all hear good news soon about this amazing animals.

  • Bryce

    I like how the biologists are trying to “help” the birds by firing a cannon-net, during one of the most desperate points in their eating cycle. hahaha the biologists were even saying: they don’t need any more setbacks… the logical thing to do is to fire a cannon net at ‘em xD

  • Eileen

    My children and I learned about the plight of the Red Knots at the Philadelphia Zoo today in their new bird exhibit. I will be taking my children down to Cape May this weekend to see the activity of these birds and the horseshoe crabs as well. One can only hope that the short 2 year moratorium on using them for bait will be enough. It’s a shame that the moratorium isn’t long enough (8-10) years as it should be to get enough full grown adults out there spawning to help the horseshoe crabs and the red knots recover, hopefully, from going into extinction. How self centered are we that we’re worried about eels for sushi? Seriously? Thanks for sharing a more detailed story that helped my children to recognize how serious this is. You should contact the Philadelphia Zoo and have them link their movie at the bird house to your website and this program. I hope that we will all hear good news in the future of these birds and also the horseshoe crabs.

  • Kristina Summers

    very moving and beautiful film. Thank you for making this. I learned about these birds through my job with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Nongame Conservation Section and quickly became fascinated by these small birds. This is a great resource to have to be able to point the public too. Beautiful footage, and the story was very well told. Wonderful. I can’t wait to share.

  • TJColatrella

    What harm and damage has the BP Oil Disaster due to Greed, Negligence and Government Corruption done to the breeding grounds of the Horseshoe Crabs in the wetlands of the Gulf Region and now perhaps Florida and even further North?

    Is it too much to expect Ethical and Competent Government..?

  • Lori Garratt-Sharp

    You did a very well-made and comprehensive film about a subject most of us would know nothing about if not for you, Thank you for all you fine work of enlightening us about the grand connection that exists between these two seemingly unrelated creatures. It opened my eyes and the minds of many. Thank you.

  • Cynthia Cascante

    Money and gold and oil are not more valuable than life. No one person or self described “superior group” is capable of making wise decisions in the vacuum of their own delusions of superiority. The idea of ownership is a perversion of the deluded. Our work in life is to shed our delusions of grandeur and recognize that compassionate connection to others is the most valuable experience we have while we are here.

  • Red Knot lover

    this was one of the most moving shows i have ever watched EVER! this show will stay with me Forever……………. thanks for sharing this treasure

  • Karen

    I love PBS!!!! So happy that when one is fed up with constant murder shows on TV there is a outstanding alternative! The video about the Red Knot birds and the Horseshoe crabs was enlightening, thought provoking, and educational. Congratulations to the teachers who have taken the video to the classroom and hope that more teachers do the same. Our future generation should be exposed to the earths problems from Grade school, Jr. High, High School to College. Rather than becoming negative about mankind and his role upon the changing planet, I can’t help but wonder if our Creator is placing a test before us. Doesn’t the Creator place challenges throughout our lives? The challenges generally teach us, make us improve, and ultimately make us realize our potentials. We are all connected in One Big Cycle of survival. May we embrace the challenges on our journey and learn to assist and love all that inhabit our home.

  • Darren

    Sad to say but whenever wildlife has a cash value then wildlife suffers. People will see this video and want to save the horseshoe crab but those that profit from the crab will do all they can to keep stuffing money in their pockets at all costs. The lowly horseshoe crab, wasn’t bothered for millions of years until some greedy sucker finds a way to make money from them. The birds suffering illustrates the ripple effect that is obvious but we have no idea how many other species rely on the horseshoe crab too.

  • Judith

    Thank you for this beautiful and moving film. Over the next few years I hope to hear the red knots and horseshoe crabs have recovered from this disaster, and I am inspired to give as much money as I can to conservation. I have been trying to reduce my own consumption and encourage others to do the same. Thank you PBS for bringing these stories to us.

  • Uzay Sezen

    We have just fılmed horseshoe crabs matıng ın broad daylıght ın Recompence Shore, Freeport, Maine:

    They were amazing!

  • linda

    Wow, the horseshoe crab and red knot, what amazing animals. What great work nature has done with it’s self. What “work” has man done on nature! When will man leave well enough alone? When will we realize that you just can’t “fool with mother nature?” Creation is something to think about. Destruction doesn’t seem to take an awful lot of thought. I think man better start doing some thinking when it comes to nature.
    Keep up the good work PBS. Hopefully more people will start watching nature shows. And maybe learn a thing or two about what goes on around them. On the ground, right under their own feet. Or in our oceans. Where there is more life than there is on land. I bet not too many “pencil pushers” know that.
    Thank you for your work PBS.

  • C. Miller

    Thank you so much for this episode. I grew up on the Chesapeake beach and the horseshoe crab mating season was always one of my favorite times of the year. They always fascinated me as a kid, being so ancient yet so harmless. It’s great to see some light being shown on them and their current problems in terms of population. Also, I’d like to thank you for interviewing a farmer along with scientists. It just goes to show that not every human being that’s not an environmentalist is a heartless killer, the trappers are people too that are just trying to get by. I hope that study of the artificial bait is a great success for them, that way the horseshoe crabs can be left to breed and the trappers can still make a living. I’d hate to live in a world where my future children can’t walk on the beach and pet a horseshoe crab.

  • Royston

    One of the story about the horseshoe crab that I wished was mention is when a Samurai warrior dies honorably in battle, he is reborn as a Horseshoe crab, a beautiful legend from Japan which shows how these ancient creatures are revered even across the coast.

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    You did a very well-made and comprehensive film about a subject most of us would know nothing about if not for you, Thank you for all you fine work of enlightening us about the grand connection that exists between these two seemingly unrelated creatures. It opened my eyes and the minds of many. Thank you.

  • Mary J.

    Wow, I am blown away at this story and the impact one species decline has on another. I am a bird lover and have have dove the ocean for 14 years. My heart aches to think either of these species are at risk to disappear. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. It sure opens my eyes to the footprint I am leaving on this earth.

  • Dale

    Very interesting show, since this was recorded several years ago does anyone know about the current status of the Red knots? The very narrow niche the Red knot lives within throws some serious hardships at them. Nice work Nature.

  • Yiqing

    Nice! You think they would really help the red knots?

  • John Kromko

    Every day we hear about global warming, but we NEVER hear about overpopulation, which is the cause of global warming.

    Why is that?

  • steven


  • Lisa

    Are new species coming to earth? I found some little tiny red bugs that don’t look like a lady bug, I had never seen a weird looking animal in my life, I need somebody to tell me what it is, I will send a picture of it on my website

  • meloyellow

    I feel as though both creatures/ species are special in their own type of way.
    I never thought there could be animal who has lived for so long. It’s truely incredible!
    Hearing about the population of both creatures decreasing is really hurtful.
    I’m only 15 years old and I do believe that us people could really make a difference.
    I hope they don’t go any where, because they are needed for many other things and diserve to live their live and feel free!! :)

  • Joseph Jupin

    As a life-long resident of southern New Jersey, birding enthusiast and amateur nature photographer I was deeply moved by this film. I learned about the symbiotic relationship between the Red Knot and the Horseshoe Crab only last year which gives testament to the dire need to expand public education regarding the natural world and man’s responsibility to preserve it. Living ten minutes from Delaware Bay, it a amazes me that I did not learn about our phenominal ecosystem much earlier in my life. In a few weeks, I look forward to seeing this interplay up close and personal on the Delaware Bay shore bolstering my personal commitment to New Jersey preservation and conservation. Thank you for this film and for all your good works.

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  • Jo O’Keefe

    I photographed Red Knots on Sunset Beach, NC, on 4/27/12. There seemed to be a hundred. I assume they are migrating from South America and are heading to Maryland and Delaware for HSC spawning. Would you agree? I have six photos. I put two of them, reduced, and two tiny portions of them full-res, at the top of this webpage to enable a friend to verify my ID of them. I am not a birder but care about the Red Knot and am involved with the Horseshoe Crab. I thought the way the entire flock moved in synch with one another and with the waves was astonishing. The birds waved in and waved out just as the waves did. Here is the link:

  • Catherine H

    Another amazing episode of Nature! I learned quite a bit watching this one–and have a new found respect for the horseshoe crab. I can remember when my son was pre-school age— I used to bring him to a local beach park near our home ( state of MA USA). At low tide, there were literally dozens-countless–horseshoe crabs. At that age, I forget what my son named them–he thought they were a small dinosaur! This episode really opened my eyes. I have always had a love and respect for all birds–and after seeing what the Red Knot is enduring–and efforts to help–this little bird left a lasting impression on me. BRAVO PBS–another winning episode.

  • Betsy J

    I think they should put video bout narwhals. they put videos of other endangered species but I looked under N and only found naked mole rats. narwhals are interesting and amazing and we should be trying just as hard to save them.

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