A mutant crayfish that can clone itself and reproduce asexually is taking over Europe, and scientists are desperately trying to figure out a way to limit the spread of the invasive species, the Daily Mail is reporting.
It sounds like the plot of a horror movie: a monster escapes from its confinement, evolves the ability to clone itself, and destroys the planet. But in this case the horror is all to real: although not endangering the planet (yet), the marmokreb, or marbled crayfish, is already wreaking havoc on sensitive ecosystems.
Ordinarily, crayfish reproduce sexually, just like the vast majority of species of animals the world over. However, the females of the marmokreb species have evolved the ability to reproduce asexually, producing clones of themselves. This has led to an explosion in population of the animal, and it is turning up in places where it shouldn’t.
For example, the crustacean has started altering the ecosystem in Madagascar, where it has no natural predators and where it is gobbling up food that would otherwise support the food chain in the sensitive ecosystem. What’s more, because the species evolved so quickly, it can adapt within a generation.
The marmokreb’s devastation isn’t just limited to Africa. It’s also turned up in Europe and Japan.
Mutant crayfish species that can CLONE itself is out of control and taking over the world, warn scientists https://t.co/56Z9rzr57b
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) February 6, 2018
Scientists are pretty certain they know the invasive species’ exact origin, too. Using DNA analysis and a little digging, they believe that the “mother” of all of the invasive marmokrebs was purchased by a man in Germany in 1995, who believed he was buying a “Texas crayfish.” When the aquarium hobbyist found that the female could lay up to 100 eggs at a time, and it grew too large for its space, he gave it away. Eventually, clones wound up in pet shops across Europe. And buyers, once they couldn’t contain the animals in their aquariums, began dumping them in lakes and rivers.
Unfortunately, this is how a lot of invasive species are introduced to sensitive ecosystems — by careless pet owners who improperly get rid of them when they can’t care for them any more. As Slate reported in 2014, Florida’s swamps are filled with pet snakes — Nile crocodiles, Burmese pythons, and green anacondas — that have no natural predators there, and that wreak havoc on ecosystems.
Officials estimate that invasive species do $120 billion worth of environmental damage each year.