Imagine an animal that can reproduce at a rate not unlike Star Trek’s classic Tribbles – because it’s actually cloning itself. This stranger-than-fiction monstrosity is worse than a scifi horror, because it’s entirely real.
Scientists have been studying the colossal rise in population of the six-inch-long marbled crayfish. Believed to have mutated from a single crayfish about 25 years ago, the marbled crayfish has spread across much of Europe and into other continents. According to an article in The New York Times, in Madagascar, the population of marbled crayfish has grown into the millions, across a span the size of Indiana… even though it’s only been there for a decade.
The original crayfish is believed to be the slough crayfish from Florida and Georgia, which was brought over to Europe. Once it mutated and became the marble crayfish, the so-called “Texas crayfish” became popular among German aquarium hobbyists in the 1990s. However, once they realised that the marbled crayfish could reproduce genetic clones asexually, spawning all-female generations that could then go on to reproduce their own clones, the marbled crayfish were dumped in the wild where they, of course, have continued to multiply.
“People would start out with a single animal, and a year later they would have a couple hundred,” biologist Frank Lyko told the newspaper.
Scientists aren’t sure how big a problem the marbled crayfish could become since studies suggest that sex-free species (“1 in 10,000 species comprise cloning females,” according to the report) don’t actually last that long. This new breed, now called Procambarus virginalis, hasn’t arrived in the United States, but there’s always the chance it could. Because if there’s anything we’ve learned from Tribbles, it’s that all you need is one.