Crab Wars

A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Ecology, and Human Health

William Sargent

Because every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using the horseshoe crab derivative known as Limulus lysate, a multimillion dollar industry has emerged involving the license to “bleed” horseshoe crabs and the rights to their breeding grounds. William Sargent presents a thoroughly accessible insider’s guide to the discovery of the lysate test, the exploitation of the horseshoe crab at the hands of multinational pharmaceutical conglomerates, local fishing interests, and the legal and governmental wrangling over the creatures’ ultimate fate. In the end, the story of the horseshoe crab is a sobering reflection on the unintended consequences of scientific progress and the danger of self-regulated industries controlling a limited natural resource. This new edition brings the story up to date as companies race to manufacture alternatives to the horseshoe crab blood, which is now essential for testing vaccines such as those being developed to counter Covid 19. However, horseshoe crab populations are still dwindling, having a profound effect not only on the crabs themselves but on the ecosystems which depend on them.

Paper: $24.95 | E-book: $19.95
ISBN-13: 9781684580767
Pages: 160 | Size: 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
Date Published: September 1, 2021

Makes for fascinating reading… Crab Wars offers a compact introduction to the horseshoe crab and the controversy it has recently engendered.

Journal of the History of Biology


  • Here’s a species older than time, a species key to the great migrations transecting our planet—and in the space of a few years our short-term interests have brought it close to ruin. It’s a powerful metaphor (one wishes it were only a metaphor) and its tale is told with enormous care and balance. And with just the faintest hint of optimism at the end.

    Bill McKibben
    Author of The End of Nature
  • In this unusual alert to species depletion, Sargent's heartfelt concerns for the horseshoe crab illustrate the human side of scientific inquiry.

  • A popular interest book about how a 300 million year old organism became essential to the modern pharmaceutical industry. Sargent traces the discovery of horseshoe crab blood as the perfect in-vitro test for gram-negative bacteria through the development of a multi-million dollar business. He recounts the battles between multinational pharmaceutical companies to "bleed" enough crabs for Limulus lysate and the demand for crabs by the bait fishery. Regulation of the fishery by individual states complicates the issue of preserving this natural resource.

    Northeastern Naturalist
  • Makes for fascinating reading . . . Crab Wars offers a compact introduction to the horseshoe crab and the controversy it has recently engendered.

    Journal of the History of Biology
  • Sargent...has crafted a surprisingly engaging tale ... Crab Wars makes for a helpful - and entertaining - case study.
  • This new edition contains five additional chapters, a new epilogue, and a decidedly enlarged perspective on the possibilities for the future of these creatures given the new biomedical challenges now faced by humanity and the possibility that synthesizing what their blue blood was once the only known source of may now be possible.

    The Well-Read Naturalist
  • This 2021 update of a book originally published in 2002 has lost none of its relevance and has actually gained some in light of the COVID-19 pandemic…Refreshingly non-academic despite its publication by an academic press…A science/medicine book with a breezy style.

  • Crab Wars is measured, thoughtful, informative, examining the crab's use in medicine from the 1950's to Operation Warp Speed.... (It )is a "must-have" for both college and public library Science and Environmental Studies collections, highly recommended.

    Midwest Book Review
  • This beautifully written book is nonfiction but it reads like a particularly gripping novel. It’s filled with natural history, scientific discovery, pharmaceutical developments, and plenty of politics, and yet, Sargent tells the horseshoe crabs’ tale with enormous compassion and balance.

    The fascinating story of the horseshoe crab is a thought-provoking and sobering reflection on the unintended consequences of scientific progress and the dangers posed when self-regulating industries control a limited natural resource.

    Forbes Magazine
  • A revelation... a fascinating book

  • William Sargent’s updated second edition of Crab Wars, released first in 2003 and again in 2021, serves as a twenty-year retrospective on the state of the horseshoe crab, a timely argument for protecting the species, and a cautionary tale. Certainly, the current pandemic, certain prospect of more in the future, and the tsunami of biotechnological developments in recent years, many driven by the pandemic, make the horseshoe crab’s survival more important than ever.

    The Internet Review of Books

About the Author

William Sargent

William Sargent is a consultant for the NOVA Science Series and is the author of numerous books about science and the environment, including A Year in the Notch: Exploring the Natural History of the White Mountains and Storm Surge: A Coastal Village Battles the Rising Atlantic. Formerly director of the Baltimore Aquarium and a research assistant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he has taught at the Briarwood Center for Marine Biology and at Harvard …

Table Of Contents

Other Recent Titles

Philosopher Fish

Richard Adams Carey

Freshwater Fish of the Northeast

Matt Patterson

Birdwatching in Maine

Derek Lovitch

One Planet, Many Worlds

Dipesh Chakrabarty

The Myth of Progress

Tom Wessels