A unique species of all-female crayfish is rapidly spreading into, and taking over, ecosystems across the world, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) is a ten-legged creature that, unlike most species, does not need males to reproduce. Rather, the entire population — which descends from a single female — has the ability to clone itself.
P. virginalis did not exist three decades ago. It first came about after a mating between a male and female slough crayfish. The animal had an extra set of chromosomes, which then gave it the ability to reproduce without a mate.
After some time, the crayfish became its own distinct species. Scientists have found it in many places across the world, including Japan, Madagascar, Europe, and the United States. That is concerning because, as it can adapt and spread so rapidly, the crayfish is a direct threat to many native populations.
In the study, a group of international researchers compared 11 marbled crayfish from three different continents. They found that, though they all have the DNA of the mother crayfish, their coloring is a bit different. For instance, the ones in the U.S are slightly bluer than the ones in Madagascar. Though the team is not sure why that is, they believe coloration is linked to the social environment. The small pests are banned in several parts of the world, but the ones in the wild will no doubt continue to spawn and spread.