Hurst: Hi there Carol, I hope you’re as ready to discuss some animal news as I am! I have an interesting first topic, mutant crayfish taking over Europe!
Carol: Hurst, I thought we had a talk about this. We can’t talk about fake news, no matter how cool it sounds.
Hurst: Believe it or not, this is real news! Scientists are studying marbled crayfish populations because they have a certain unique characteristic, they are all female clones!
Carol: I’m all for not needing a man and everything, but they clone themselves? How does that work?
Hurst: So the marbled crayfish is a very new species; it first came into existence about 25 years ago. After sequencing some of its genome, scientists have concluded that it evolved from a species called the slough crayfish, which is found in Florida and Georgia. At some point, two mating slough crayfish had a mutation in one of their sex cells which made one of their female offspring have three copies of chromosomes, as opposed to the normal two. The resulting offspring was a female crayfish that was able to produce copies of itself without mating. Even if mating does occur, the female uses only her genetic information. All marbled crayfish that exist today, are clones of this original.
Carol: But what about the whole taking-over-Europe thing? Historically, a lot of people have tried that, with varying success, so maybe this crayfish can also do it.
Hurst: Well here is where this story takes another turn. Although it seems the marbled crayfish is a descendant of the American slough crayfish, the first initial mutation may have been in Germany, where the crayfish were kept in aquariums.
Carol; Let me guess, people buy one crayfish and then it clones itself and they don’t know what to do with all the offspring, so they dump it in the closest body of water.
Hurst: Exactly, and then the population just explodes from there. And now there are wild populations everywhere from Japan to Hungary to Madagascar.
Carol: Well I think I’ve heard that animals that reproduce in this way are biologically susceptible to diseases since they all have the same genetic information, so we will see how long they last. Anyways, your mention of Madagascar reminded me of some exciting news. Scientists have discovered eighteen new species of spiders in Madagascar, however, these spiders are unique because they hunt other spiders.
Hurst: Oh I’ve seen pictures of some of these assassin spiders, they are equal parts of fascinating and terrifying.
Carol: I don’t see why you would say they are scary, with their large fangs and long neck, they’re adorable and interesting. In fact, assassin spiders are living fossils, having changed very little from their ancestors 50 million years ago.
Hurst: Oh yeah, nothing scary about a prehistoric spider with giant fangs that eats other spiders.
Carol: Whether you find them scary or adorable, these newly discovered species are already in danger as Madagascar faces increasing rates of deforestation.
Hurst: Not just spiders, but plenty of species are still waiting to be discovered, may be wiped out by deforestation before we even know they exist. Thankfully conservation groups are trying their hardest to slow this process.
Carol: Speaking of important conservation efforts, there is some important legislation in the works in the United States right now. As Congress prepares to pass a large omnibus appropriations bill for 2018 they are considering taking away protection for endangered species like the Mexican Grey Wolf and Sage Grouse.
Hurst: Ugh I’m hoping that now you are going to tell me how it is being stopped.
Carol: You’re in luck, I am. This weakening of the Endangered Species Act is being heavily opposed by over 240 environmental, animal welfare, and conservation organizations. They have written a letter to the House and Senate urging them to prioritize the protection of these animals.
Hurst: It seems odd that lawmakers in a room in the Capitol have influence over the lives of animals in the wilderness. However, our next story is positive example of this. The Department of Transportation in Colorado has created wildlife crossings over major roadways that have decreased animal collisions by up to 90%.
Carol: I have been a big fan of wildlife crossings for years, but they come with a hefty price tag. Still, they have improved and become more effective and efficient over the last two decades. Many national parks and areas near national parks have them. Earlier this month, plans for a wildlife crossing over the TransCanada Highway were announced.
Hurst: I also found it interesting to read that different animals prefer different types of crossings.
Carol: Oh, you mean like how cougars and black bears favor narrow and dark culverts that run under the highway, while ungulates like elk, deer, and moose prefer crossings with more light and visibility. Obviously, small prey animals don’t like the dark culverts either because they can’t see any predators lurking in the shadows.
Hurst: Wow, you are a fan of wildlife crossings. I’m impressed you knew that. But these crossings are important not only for the animals crossing these roads, but also for people. Hitting an animal with an automobile can be very harmful or even fatal. This is just another great example of the idea that when we help animals, we help ourselves.
Carol: Speaking of helping animals and helping ourselves, the Natural Resources Defense Council is currently petitioning to Amazon to stop selling products that contain bee-harming chemicals. I thought this was newsworthy because of this unique approach to affecting change for animals.
Hurst: Well, petitions aren’t unique, so I assume you mean asking Amazon to stop selling them based on an ethical stand.
Carol: Exactly. With their unbelievably ridiculous market power, could you imagine the disruption they would cause if they did such a thing?
Hurst: It’s pretty mind-boggling. Any other news we need to cover before we sign off?
Carol: Not so fast…there is much more to make sure our readers know about. For example, we need to honor the life and conservation efforts of Esmond Bradley Martin, who was murdered in Kenya last week, presumably because of his relentless work against poachers and traffickers. The Guardian did a very nice piece about him and his work that has been making a difference in the illegal ivory trade since the 70s. One quote about him from the article read “He was tireless in his efforts to protect elephants and rhinos,” said John Scanlon, head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “His research and findings across multiple continents had a real impact. He was a longstanding and highly regarded member of the CITES technical teams looking into the poaching of elephants and smuggling of their ivory. He will be sadly missed by all at Cites but his legacy will live on.”
Hurst: Very good to note. Are there any celebrations coming up that we should know about?
Carol: Are there! Some biggies! Chinese New Year is coming up on February 16 as is World Pangolin Day on February 17!
Hurst: I know how you love pangolins!
Carol: I do. I’m a real fan of them.
Hurst: You are a fan of all animals, aren’t you?
Carol: Why yes I am. Thanks for that segue! Fanimal is a new business I am launching and I’m so excited about it. It is a member website for people who love animals. We provide all the right tools to be animal advocates everyday. For more information, go to https://fanimal.online/ and follow Fanimal’s Facebook page.
Hurst: I will do just that! Ok, well, I really do need to go now to get ready for the Chinese New Year party I am throwing.
Carol: I hear ya. Happy Year of the Dog, Hurst!
Hurst: Happy Year of the Dog, Carol!