Of all the apocalyptic scenarios I can imagine, “Mass Suffocation By Mutant Crayfish” sounds fine! Certainly preferable to suffering though a robot uprising or struggling in a nuclear wasteland. I wouldn’t have thought that being smothered under a pile of 6-inch crustaceans would be my ideal way to go, but I suppose it could even be kinda tasty. Especially if they were boiled first, with some lemon and Old Bay (and probably beer — I add beer to everything). I mean, I’d HAVE to attempt to eat my way out of the pile, right? Survival instinct and and all. And if I failed in the attempt? Well, honestly, that actually MIGHT make it my hypothetical dream death.
Such are the times we’re living in.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what the fuck I’m on about with this “mutant crayfish” shit, right? Well, according to The New York Times (HEARD OF IT?!), there is a brand new species of crayfish in the world, and they sound fascinating. Here are the fast facts:
- They are called the marbled crayfish, marmorkrebs, or Procambarus virginalis
- The species is only about 25 years old (!!!), and developed when a single crayfish experienced a single mutation: it could clone itself. According to the Times:
The scientists concluded that the new species got its start when two slough crayfish mated. One of them had a mutation in a sex cell — whether it was an egg or sperm, the scientists can’t tell.
Normal sex cells contain a single copy of each chromosome. But the mutant crayfish sex cell had two.
Somehow the two sex cells fused and produced a female crayfish embryo with three copies of each chromosome instead of the normal two. Somehow, too, the new crayfish didn’t suffer any deformities as a result of all that extra DNA.
It grew and thrived. But instead of reproducing sexually, the first marbled crayfish was able to induce her own eggs to start dividing into embryos. The offspring, all females, inherited identical copies of her three sets of chromosomes. They were clones.
- Just to drive that last bit home: The species is made up entirely of identical female clones! It’s like the Orphan Black of freshwater arthropods! They can mate with male slough crayfish, but can’t produce viable offspring that way. Whomp whomp.
- The marbled crayfish evolved from a species native to Florida and Georgia, but the mutation was discovered through the pet trade in Germany (it literally may have occurred in an aquarium for all the scientists know). Now the crayfish, which multiply rabidly thanks to the whole “laying a bunch of eggs without mating” thing, have spread across Europe and have even been found in Japan and Madagascar.
- And though their rapid spread makes them a likely invasive species, they are not actually a source or even a sign of the Apocalypse. Or at least, no one has yet said so. Me? I can’t help but see “delicious Doomsday” written all over this story.
But before we all pump our fists in solidarity with the female crayfish that don’t need male sexin’ no more, it’s worth noting that cloning like this is not necessarily an evolutionarily sound development. There is, in fact, a reason why more species haven’t evolved to just clone themselves. Sure, the marbled crayfish can rapidly increase their numbers, but because they’re genetically identical, they are incredibly vulnerable to disease. If the right sickness comes around it could wipe them all out in one fell swoop. Whereas good ol’ SEX produces offspring with unique mixes of genetic material, which improves the odds that some offspring will have natural defenses to different pathogens.
Also challenging the marbled crayfish’s chances of survival? The fact that I want to boil and eat them until I die.
COME AT ME, CLONES.
*Note: The header image is not of the marbled crayfish. However, it is a 100% accurate representation of what I’d do to them.