Is the world about to be taken over by an unstoppable, ever-reproducing army of crayfish? Never say never.
The marbled crayfish, a crustacean species that is perplexing scientists with its inexplicable ability to reproduce asexually, is spreading like wildfire as clones of the species pop up from Europe to Asia to Africa without showing any sign of stopping. The problem is that the new freshwater species invades and disrupts ecosystems. The crayfish can survive in all kinds of environments and temperatures, and they eat almost anything, including small fish and insects like snails. According to scientists, just one crayfish has the ability to begin a whole new population. It got so scary, the European Union had to actually ban the species - it's illegal to have them, sell them, or release them in the wild.
As far as scientists know, this new species of crayfish are the only decapod - a crustacean with five pairs of legs - able to reproduce asexually. The entire species is female, and has somehow found a way to clone itself using eggs that haven't been fertilized by a male. No one knows exactly when the crayfish started cloning themselves, but the first time scientists identified the phenomenon was in the early 2000s, after a German aquarium owner bought a bag of "Texas crayfish" and started to notice the tank he was housing them in filling up inexplicably.
Scientists sequenced the DNA of 11 marbled crayfish and concluded that indeed, the crayfish were actual clones of one another, all descended from a single female that managed to self-replicate. That's right, from German aquariums to Madagascar, the crayfish were almost genetically identical.
The other weird thing is that it turns out marbled crayfish have three sets of chromosomes while most animals have two - one from the mother and one from the father. Still, scientists don't know how this mutation occurred. At the moment, the running theory is that two slough crayfish from different parts of the world mated, and one crayfish in the pair contributed an abnormal egg or sperm. Though scientists disagree on whether this could have happened naturally in the wild or would have had to take place in a tank.
There's still a whole lot of questions, but it seems like researchers are slowly starting to put the pieces together.
So should you start brainstorming ways to earn favor with our future 10-legged overlords? Maybe not just yet, but who knows what the future holds.
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