The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for October 23rd, 2012

forbidden zone

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Consultations with the elder tomes, Armbruster and Riker amongst others, an activity entered into during an innocent pursuit of certain historical lore about the area surrounding the conjunction of Grand Street/Avenue and the fabled Newtown Creek, revealed- or rather suggested- blasphemous realities difficult to digest. Needing a walk, and desiring to be warmed by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself, your humble narrator found himself scuttling forth and somehow ended up at the hidden relict known to some as the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. It was there that a corpse was discovered.

from wikipedia

Horseshoe crabs resemble crustaceans, but belong to a separate subphylum, Chelicerata, and are therefore more closely related to arachnids e.g spiders and scorpions. The earliest horseshoe crab fossils are found in strata from the late Ordovician period, roughly 450 million years ago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, are familiar with the spot. The wooden structure visible is the last remains of the Maspeth Toll Bridge Co.’s Plank Road- which last crossed the Newtown Creek in 1875. Connecting the ancient community of Maspeth and Newtown with the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, amongst other notorious or malodorous occupants), the Plank Road today exists as a destination for Newtown Creek devotees and fetishists. One did not expect to find a cadaver there, especially not of a creature whose origins stretch back to the Ordovician age.

from wikipedia

For most of the Late Ordovician, life continued to flourish, but at and near the end of the period there were mass-extinction events that seriously affected planktonic forms like conodonts, graptolites, and some groups of trilobites (Agnostida and Ptychopariida, which completely died out, and the Asaphida, which were much reduced). Brachiopods, bryozoans and echinoderms were also heavily affected, and the endocerid cephalopods died out completely, except for possible rare Silurian forms. The Ordovician–Silurian Extinction Events may have been caused by an ice age that occurred at the end of the Ordovician period as the end of the Late Ordovician was one of the coldest times in the last 600 million years of earth history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given its size, the departed was likely a female, and it was fairly apparent from both olfactory and visual inspection that it had emerged from the water and mounted its cairn several days before you humble narrator stumbled upon it. Clearly, its eyes had been chewed away by some scavenger. Often have I been told that this specie exists in Newtown Creek, but never have I beheld a specimen along it. Truly- who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

from wikipedia

Xiphosura is an order of marine chelicerates which includes a large number of extinct lineages and only four recent species in the family Limulidae, which include the horseshoe crabs. The group has hardly changed in millions of years; the modern horseshoe crabs look almost identical to prehistoric genera such as the Jurassic Mesolimulus, and are considered to be living fossils. The most notable difference between ancient and modern forms is that the abdominal segments in present species are fused into a single unit in adults.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often has the thought occurred to me. The relatively sudden change in the chemistry of both water and sediment over the last couple of hundred years- what process has that begun in the genome of local specie? Those who cannot adapt to the “new normal” will wither and die off, while others will alter themselves to thrive in the environment they find themselves in. Such is the very nature of life upon this world. Creatures such as this Horseshoe Crab have persisted, generation after generation, through asteroid hits and volcanic calamity and ice age. Surely they can adapt to the petroleum and chemicals in the water. They have seen dinosaurs come and go, these creatures.

from wikipedia

The Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, is a marine chelicerate arthropod. Despite its name, it is more closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions than to crabs. Horseshoe crabs are most commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the northern Atlantic coast of North America. A main area of annual migration is Delaware Bay, although stray individuals are occasionally found in Europe.

The other three species in the family Limulidae are also called horseshoe crabs. The Japanese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus) is found in the Seto Inland Sea, and is considered an endangered species because of loss of habitat. Two other species occur along the east coast of India: Tachypleus gigas and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda. All four are quite similar in form and behavior.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The province of science fiction, such industrially adapted animals might thrive on petroleum derivates, taking advantage of other species inability to exist in such places. It has happened before, sudden environmental change. Unfortunately, it is rather simple creatures like the horseshoe crab and those smaller who are most likely to survive. Always, it is the apex predators who dominate the landscape that die off, which in modern times – unfortunately- is us.

from wikipedia

It is generally agreed that the Chelicerata contain the classes Arachnida (spiders, scorpions, mites, etc.), Xiphosura (horseshoe crabs) and Eurypterida (sea scorpions, extinct). The extinct Chasmataspida may be a sub-group within Eurypterida. The Pycnogonida (sea spiders) were traditionally classified as chelicerates, but some features suggest they may be representatives of the earliest arthropods from which the well-known groups such as chelicerates evolved

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine the earth of a century or two from now- flooded and with vast reserves of carbon dioxide loosed within the atmosphere. Contrary to doomsayers fantasies of some parched Sahara, the historic record suggests- based on the fossil record of eras when CO2 existed in concentrations well beyond any modern day greenhouse gas scenario- that the planet will host vast forests as opportunist trees and plants drink in the stuff. We will be long gone, of course, either having escaped into space or extinct because of changes in rainfall, habitable land, and climate which will render large scale agriculture a quaint memory. If and when the monsoons fail to arrive in China and India, we will know the end is nigh.

Of course, these CO2 rich epochs were also marred by incredibly vast fires. The smoke from forest fires which consumed whole continents contributed to palls of smoke blotting out the sun which eventually cooled the planet and caused ice ages. Additionally, the precipitate of this smoke, carried down by rain, changed the pH of the oceans which dissolved the shells of mollusks and burned away the coral reefs. Ask the Xiphosura, they’ll tell you all about it, unless we wipe them all out first.


With its armored shell, ancient anatomy, and 350-million-year lineage, the horseshoe crab almost seems too inconspicuous to stir up controversy. Yet this humble creature is at the very center of a collision between three completely different species.

For many decades, humans have harvested the horseshoe crab for use as fishing bait. Since the 1970s, we have also used horseshoe crab blood for medical purposes. But we may have gone too far. Horseshoe crab numbers have declined significantly since the early 1990’s. And, naturally, so did their egg numbers.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

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