This story initially appeared on The Guardian and is a part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Small, bluish-gray, and speckled, the marbled crayfish can be straightforward to miss. Aside from the actual fact it’s prone to be coming to a pond or river close to you quickly—if it’s not already there. The all-female freshwater crustacean has develop into a spotlight of fascination for scientists lately, as a consequence of its distinctive means amongst decapods—the household that features shrimps, crabs and lobsters—to clone itself and rapidly adapt to new environments, in addition to the truth that it has unfold exponentially.

The marbled crayfish was first acknowledged in 1995, when a biology scholar purchased a bag of crayfish—bought to him as “Texas crayfish”—from American merchants at a pet truthful in Frankfurt. After they began turning into a burden to their new proprietor as a consequence of their inexplicably speedy charge of replica, he distributed them to buddies who, in flip, dumped them into rivers, lakes, and bathrooms, from which they unfold quickly all through Germany, a lot of mainland Europe, and most profusely, the island of Madagascar, house to distinctive however extraordinarily delicate freshwater ecosystems.

When Frank Lyko, a professor of epigenetics on the German Cancer Analysis Centre (DKFZ), first got here throughout the creatures, known as marmorkrebs, he was astonished by their means to breed clonally from a single cell, like most cancers tumors, and noticed them as a really perfect mannequin for analysis.

“All marbled crayfish share the identical genome,” he says on a video name from his workplace in Heidelberg. “However in addition they adapt to varied totally different environments, and do this in a rush, which makes them scientifically exceptional and much like a tumor, which additionally adapts to its surroundings.”

Lyko led the ambitious genome study that established the extraordinary reality that each one marbled crayfish originate from a single foundational feminine. They reproduce with out intercourse by parthenogenesis. In 2015, he gave the all-female crustaceans their species title of Procambarus virginalis.

In the midst of his analysis, Lyko recollects driving along with his college students to a lake about quarter-hour from his lab. Donning head torches and waders and standing ankle deep within the water, “we waited till it acquired darkish, then instantly they emerged of their lots of and 1000’s,” he says. “With a hand internet, we caught them from behind and put them in buckets. It was so thrilling. Quickly after that, we began experimenting with consuming them and located they have been fairly tasty.”

“The Extra We Eat, the Higher”

In Germany, the place the marbled crayfish have invaded lakes and rivers, authorities have adopted a strict strategy to them.

Klaus Hidde, a retired financial institution clerk turned passion fisher, was tasked by the Berlin senate’s surroundings division final 12 months with setting traps for the crayfish, which have been present in two lakes on Berlin’s western fringes. Not solely are the crayfish at risk of killing off native species, “however they will additionally carry the so-called crayfish plague,” he says, referring to a fungal illness that kind of worn out what had been a massively profitable European crayfish market 150 years in the past.


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