Georgia crawfish mutates into new species, takes over Europe

Outside a boiling pot - and certain parts of the American south - the crawfish is an odd animal to see.  So imagine being in Germany, where the crawfish population has exploded in one of the most unusual ways known to science.

The New York Times is the latest to cover the unusual spread of the marbled crayfish, a species that didn't even exist 25 years before - in Germany or anywhere else.  But it turns out that the small crustaceans on far shores have a direct connection to one Georgia riverbed and its surrounding waterways.

Take a trip down to southeast Georgia and you'll find restaurants, stores - and people - named after the Satilla River. It's one of the main waterways there, snaking its way through several counties.  Look hard enough at the right times and you'll also find Procambarus fallax - or the slough crayfish.

It's where the story of a major problem overseas appears to begin, though exactly how is a bit of an oddity.  According to Frank Lyko, a biologist at the German Cancer Research Center, studies of the six-inch-long marbled crayfish have turned up many strange things.

For one, they're all female. And yet they reproducing - by cloning.  Scientists have seen this happening and a population explosion in several countries. So they researched the small creatures - down to their very DNA - and found out they owe their heritage to their cousins in the Satilla River. But it evolved.

Quickly.

In a single crawfish a mutation occurred. According to researchers, somehow, two sex cells fused and produced a female embryo with three copies of each chromosome. Despite this major change, the crawfish don't suffer from deformities.

So it survives, it clones - and spreads.

But how did a crawfish even end up that far away from the swampy Georgia mud in the first place?  According to the New York Times, they're popular aquarium pets among hobbyists in Germany. At least one owner said he got his after they were described to him as "Texas crayfish".

The larger creature turned out to be an apparent marbled crayfish and produced hundreds of eggs.  Some believe the creatures found their way into waterways there when people began dumping the numerous offspring in area lakes.

The Times reports that, now, they can be found in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine in Europe. They're also popping up in Japan and Madagascar.

And it all apparently stemmed from some Georgia-native crawdads.

Read the full New York Times article here.

© 2018 WXIA-TV


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