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The Loop

Self-cloning mutant crayfish are taking over Europe, but really no big deal

HERE’S THE BAD NEWS: There is an animal found in Europe that is a mutant animal, and this mutant animal has developed an ability to clone itself (or “reproduce asexually,” if you’re into giggling) with breathtaking speed, and this mutant self-replicating biological curiosity is essentially taking over the continent, and the continent is largely powerless to stop it, and all of this would be cause for Europe to lose its mind in panic (“Tuftingham and cockfosters!” I can hear our British friends yelling), except that the mutant animal in question is a crayfish, and crayfish are very tasty and I, in theory, support having more of them to transform into etoufee.

According to the New York Times,” (which is using Cajun-animal-cloning stories to distract us from the FBI agents who kept texting each other the blueprints for the Obama/Illuminati global takeover) the animal is known as a “marbled crayfish.” It’s about six inches long and currently numbers in the millions, which is a significant upgrade from about 25 years ago, when it numbered zero.

Around that time, two otherwise unremarkable crayfish in the American south had crayfish babies, and these babies contained a mutation that let them reproduce without the traditional and generally bothersome input from a male. Before long, these mutant crayfish were found in a German pet shop, where they were turning into a krautload of marbled crayfish with unusual efficiency — which is pretty good news if you’re in the business of selling pets.

But, as is often the case with self-perpetuating mutants, it was only awesome for a while, and now all crayfish hell has broken loose, in whatever manner crayfish hell breaks loose, I’m really not sure but I imagine it involves a lot of clacking sounds. Indeed, researchers found that the freshwater crayfish was cloning itself when — and this is true — people would buy one as a pet, plop it in an aquarium and, before long, wander back into their living room to find a tank crawling with a couple hundred all-female crayfish. Naturally, this is not how aquariums and crayfish and reproduction and biology is supposed to operate. And scientists soon found that the insane explosion of numbers was indeed due to the animal’s ability to clone itself, which it was doing, in droves, using its huge amounts of self-perpetuating eggs. So for two decades, crayfish have been exploding exponentially, leading to severe overcrowding in British aquariums but a fantastic rise in the field of Norweigan gumbo.

So what do you do when you have an aquatic animal in an aquatic aquarium and you don’t want it anymore? Generally speaking, you have two options: 1. (flush sound) and 2. Bloop it into the nearest body of water, which is a real bad idea when dealing with an animal that can reproduce like a Mogwai. (Crayfish are much less cute, but taste about the same.) And before long the animals were spreading through the Czech Republic, Croatia, Ukraine and then, somehow Japan and Madagascar? Are they hopping boats? Can they apparate? And, uh, are they here already? (Answer: Of course they’re here already, so if you run across one, for the love of God, don’t flush it.)

Happily, Frank Lyko, a biologist at the German Cancer Research Center who’s studied the animals, thinks we are probably not due for a full-on crayfish invasion. “Maybe they just survive for 100,000 years,” he told the Times. We’ll all have burst into flame from global warming by then.

And in fact the mutant clones do have an upside: Researchers hope that the animal’s ability to adapt to diverse ecosystems — subtropical Madagascar does not especially resemble Berlin — will help teach them how cancer cells adapt to different environments and adapt to various treatments.

But here’s the best part: The researchers — who not only had to figure out how this brand-new mutant was cloning itself, why, and where it started, in case you thought you were having a hard day at work — discovered that the entire universe of crayfish clones originated with one single female, and that the process unfolded without the use of a single male, which is almost certainly why it worked.