Stalin's Crabs

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Haven't had enough bad news this week? Then you may not have heard that "Millions of giant Pacific crabs, whose ancestors were brought to Europe by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, are marching south along Norway's coast, devouring everything in their path."

Thanks to: Lizard

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  1. “Some favour annihilating the crabs, an almost impossible task, while others are tickled pink at the chance to gorge for free on a rare delicacy they find almost at the bottom of their gardens.”

    This is a conflict? Looks like win-win to me.

  2. This is just payback to the Russians for giving us tumbleweed (aka Siberian thistle).

  3. Wow. 25 pound crabs. Somebody get the Old Bay.

    It’s really amazing when you consider the decline of the blue crab in the Chesapeake. Crabs have been getting smaller every year here.

  4. I read as far as the revelation that
    the problem crabs are considered a delicacy.

    Problem?

    I will happily accept all they care to send me.

  5. I hear the Norwegians are going to the UN to pass a resolution condemning the crabs.

    Let’s hope that works.

    If not, there’s always sanctions.

    I say bomb ’em.

  6. This reminds me of soemthing I saw in 1997, when I lived in the state of Washington while doing an internship at the Department of Energy. (That internship was one of many factors that got me disillusioned with government.) While the rest of the country ignored the deadly threat to the north, I got to watch an epic struggle unfold:

    Some salmon migrate back and forth between US and Canadian waters. Some fishermen from the two countries got angry at each other. They blockaded ferry boats between the countries, stranding tourists for hours at a time. They threw things at each other from their boats. They yelled insults. They drank a lot of beer. Some Canadians even burned an American flag. (Upon seeing that on the news, one of my co-workers yelled that the US Navy should get involved ASAP! He, of course, was far too fat to ever serve in the armed forces, so it was convenient for him to demand that others fight to avenge that insult…)

    The governor of Washington pleaded for the State Department to intervene. Madeline Albright, not recognizing that our country’s economic future was at stake, tried to stay out of it. But the rest of us got to watch the Great Salmon War of 1997 unfold in all of its awful glory.

    I still get a patriotic tear in my eye when I think of that epic struggle…. 🙂

  7. You know what color crabs turn when you cook em?

    That’s right.

  8. The Stalinist crabs have opposition, though:

    http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_885832.html?menu=news.quirkies.animaltales

    “Nazi raccoons conquer Europe”.

  9. The racoon story is very interesting because the “Columbian exchange” has generally been so one-sided fauna-wise.

  10. Jeff R,

    Of course the Raccoons are taking over Europe. They are American and therefore inherently superior to the effete, decadent and pacifistic European fauna.

  11. “They are American and therefore inherently superior to the effete, decadent and pacifistic European fauna.”

    ROTFL!

    Draft the raccoons. Pit them against the crabs.

    Jean “Columbian exchange”?!

    Hahaha! Stop the Euro grasses and animals! Wipe them out..all of them.

    Go native.

  12. Pass the butter.

  13. Overlord,

    I am sure you are being sarcastic, but almost all the major fauna in the New World – especially that of real economic value – is European, or at least “old world,” in origin.

    shanep,

    The Columbian exchange is a term used to describe the post-Columbus exchange of fauna and flora between the old and new world; for the most part, the old world has dominated this exchange. What makes the racoon story so unusual is that very little fauna has come to Europe and dominated there, but the exact opposite is true of the Americas.

    Please see Crosby’s:

    “The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492”

    “Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900”

  14. Jean Bart-

    Has anybody ever tried to explain why most fauna in the New World is from Europe but very little European fauna is from the New World? If I had to guess, I’d say that the combination of Eurasia and Africa is quite wide from east to west, so fauna could move from disparate regions of similar climate, causing more competition between species. The Americas, on the other hand, are comparatively narrow from east to west, so species in the Americas have encountered less competition in the past.

    Then again, all of that could be 100% wrong.

  15. “Has anybody ever tried to explain why most fauna in the New World is from Europe but very little European fauna is from the New World?”

    It’s probably a little more accurate to say a lot of the fauna of the new world is from Asia, which has a much more recent connection to the new world (land bridge at what is now the Bering Strait). There are related species shared between N/S American and Europe/Africa due to their much less recent connection, and of course many species have evolved independently in the new world.

  16. “What makes the racoon story so unusual is that very little fauna has come to Europe and dominated there, but the exact opposite is true of the Americas.”

    The phenomenon Jean Bart mentions of introduced species being much more invasive (i.e. rapidly spreading, ecologically damaging) in the Americas than in Europe is really interesting. It’s maybe not too surprising that something like a raccoon, which does well in disturbed habitat and around human settlement, would do well in Europe, since so much of Western Europe is disturbed (so to speak…), at least compared to North America. But the whole phenomenon of invasive species is really odd (and, not surprisingly, a hot topic of ecological/evolutionary research). A lot of species introduced to North America hang around at very low numbers or don’t last at all, and some that do become invasive require an extended “incubation” time and/or multiple introductions before they begin to spread rapidly. It’s been suggested that hybridization with native species can facilitate invasiveness, but no one really has any broadly applicable rules.

    Jean Bart, did those references you mentioned above have any hypotheses about why the Americas might be more susceptible to invasion than Europe?

  17. Elvis Jenssen, 41, said: “The bloody things hoover up everything off the bottom of the sea and all the fish are disappearing.

    Not to mention some linguistic encroachment.

  18. You’re making a big assumption there, J and thoreau, that the lopsidedness in the number of trans-Atlantic invasive species has a biological basis. It’s culture and economics.

    Lots of people immigrated from Europe to America over the past 3 centuries, bringing their livestock, pests, seeds, burrs on their clothing, etc. From gypsy moths to mongooses, crackpots have been introducing inappropriate species in the hopes of revolutionizing agriculture for 150 years. There was very little traffic in the opposite direction. This is clearly the biggest reason for the imbalance. I think the racoons demonstrate that American species introduced to the foreign habitate can be just as invasive as their opposites.

  19. Way to spoil my fun, Joe! 🙂

  20. Thoreau,

    “Has anybody ever tried to explain why most fauna in the New World is from Europe but very little European fauna is from the New World?”

    Yes, there’s an entire body of literature on the subject; Australia seems to be an especially hot topic in these studies of late, BTW.

    “If I had to guess, I’d say that the combination of Eurasia and Africa is quite wide from east to west, so fauna could move from disparate regions of similar climate, causing more competition between species. The Americas, on the other hand, are comparatively narrow from east to west, so species in the Americas have encountered less competition in the past.”

    Well much of it is simply that European fauna and flora were tougher genetically through the selection processes forced upon them by Europeans. Compare what occurred on the Pampas (massive invasion of foreign grasses, etc.) v. what happened on the American “great plans” (native species survive and prosper) and you will see what I mean. In the pampas no native ungulates (or any other create like it) lived; so the grasses there were easily displaced by foreign grasses that were more robust; on the great plans such ungulates (bison) existed in vast numbers, and while they were displaced by cattle, the native grasses were able to handle such.

  21. J,

    “It’s probably a little more accurate to say a lot of the fauna of the new world is from Asia, which has a much more recent connection to the new world (land bridge at what is now the Bering Strait). There are related species shared between N/S American and Europe/Africa due to their much less recent connection, and of course many species have evolved independently in the new world.”

    Nevertheless, native species have been significantly displaced in the New World (as well as the Pacific and Australia).

  22. Joe said: “You’re making a big assumption there, J and thoreau, that the lopsidedness in the number of trans-Atlantic invasive species has a biological basis. It’s culture and economics.”

    I don’t think it’s clear that this is the biggest reason. During the time period when invasive species have been becoming an especially important threat to native species and habitats (since the early 20th century, say), there has certainly been significant movement in both directions across the Atlantic. And early European explorers brought back at least some plants and animals from the new world. I agree that there’s historically been an imbalance, but I’m not sure it was as big as you suggest and I don’t think there’s much of one at all now. I think anywhere with a significant amount of commerce and human traffic these days is getting a fair number of critters visiting from far-off places.

  23. j,

    “It’s maybe not too surprising that something like a raccoon, which does well in disturbed habitat and around human settlement, would do well in Europe, since so much of Western Europe is disturbed (so to speak…), at least compared to North America.”

    Well, yes; which is why American forests and other natural areas – especially to Western Europeans – are so shocking. Our environment is much more “built up” and completely molded by humans.

    “Jean Bart, did those references you mentioned above have any hypotheses about why the Americas might be more susceptible to invasion than Europe?”

    Yes; Crosby argues at least partly that European species were more robust due to more intense selection processes in Europe.

  24. “During the time period when invasive species have been becoming an especially important threat to native species and habitats…”

    That’s a subjective time period, one that is defined more by the economic impact of the invasive species and public awareness of the problem, than by the actual presence of invasive species. Invasions of one species and displacement of another would not have been as easily noticed in 1820, but that’s not to they were not as common.

  25. “…that’s not to say they were not as common…”

  26. joe,

    “It’s culture and economics.”

    I wouldn’t argue that this is not part of the answer.

    “Lots of people immigrated from Europe to America over the past 3 centuries, bringing their livestock, pests, seeds, burrs on their clothing, etc.”

    Well, one thing that has to be pointed out is that many of the introductions were completely accidental and unknown; you will find this is true of everything from peace trees to numerous grasses and weeds.

    Furthermore, in the way of economically important fauna, Europe simply just had far more.

    “There was very little traffic in the opposite direction. This is clearly the biggest reason for the imbalance.”

    Actually, that’s not really true; biologically speaking, the America’s also transformed Europe – just not in the nature of the accidental exchanges that occurred in the Americas. Think, for example, of the really important introductions from the New World of maize, potatoes, and manioc. Indeed, it has been argued by many economic and agricultural historians that these introductions were critical for the coming industrial revolution. Furthermore, the Americas were intense nurseries for all sorts of agricultural goods that were sent to Europe for consumption there – everything from sugar, to tobacco, to various spices, to cochineal dyes.

  27. J,

    Well, there has to be a reason to explain why weeds and grasses from the old world could be introduced by happenstance in the new world, and run like wildfire, pushing out native grasses, yet there was no opposite effect, even though the same processes for transport occurred both ways.

  28. Yeah Jean, I know what it is, hence my “go native” comment, but just had to laugh that you responded that way.

  29. The very notion that I might have crabs is a lie spread by the decadent capitalists!

  30. Well much of it is simply that European fauna and flora were tougher genetically through the selection processes forced upon them by Europeans

    Hmmmm, very skeptical of this point. It doesn’t seem that the evolutionary window would be anywhere near large enough for these type of pressures to result in any noticeable effects on these types of species. I’ll look into the book. Crosby, right? Thanks.

  31. Rich,

    It would be long enough; selection pressures can work especially well on species that have short generational turnover (such as grasses and weeds). Indeed, your comment is undermined by the fact that dramatic changes have been seen in the structure, hardiness, etc. of various fauna and flora when humans have artificially selected for such; see maize for example.

  32. I think I saw this in a B-movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Crabs” or something like that.

  33. Jared Diamond addresses domesticated animals in Guns Germs and Steel: It’s not that Eurasian animals are genetically tougher…he argues that the large proportion of domesticated animals that are of Eurasian origin has more to do with the timing of human arrival. The basic idea is that humans developed improved hunting skills in Eurasia at the same time that they domesticated the more docile fauna. When humans arrived in the Americas via the Bering land bridge, they were so good at hunting that they pretty much wiped out the more docile – and potentially domesticatable – large mammals.

    Interestingly, the more docile African mammals were probably also wiped out despite our African origins – although humans started there, we apparently migrated out of Africa and then back in much later.

    Note that this effect would not apply to plants – and that, as pointed out by others above, agriculturally important plants have moved in both directions, and so have diseases…although I suspect that more diseases went westward over the Atlantic…probably related to Europeans bringing them with them to the Americas rather than the other way around.

  34. Putting the wonk back in:”At present, some Norwegian fishermen have been granted seasonal licences to catch the Kamchatka crab but stiff regulations on the size of the boat used and other criteria mean they are few in number.”

  35. I say they harvest the crabs and dumb them on the market…..just before lunch today near my hometown.

    Mmmm…..Crab.

  36. Only trouble with a coon is it ain’t a possum.

  37. On further thought, the greater intensity of land use in Europe could well be an additional cause. If a grass starts spreading on the Great Plains, nobody gives a hoot. If a single shoot of the wrong plant pops up in a field in the Netherlands, it’s out of there pronto.

  38. Back to the crabs, does anyone else see this as tremendously inane? Here you have something that is considered a delicacy (rare for a highly invasive species), is reproducing like mad, is highly sought after, yet is causing environmental destruction as it invades new habitat. So what would anyone with a brain do? Go catch the suckers, and start exporting them! Yeah, the price will go down some, but if they’re so good, why can’t they can them, and ship them over here. Instead of me paying 8 or more dollars a pound for crabmeat (and I live in Baltimore, where them Blue Crabs are famous), why don’t they try selling this cheaper. They say that one leg is a filling meal, so it’s not like the return per catch is teeny.

    Yet they can’t go get them because of fishing regulations? Seasonal licenses? They’ll sit there and wring their hands over how much destruction they’ll do, but they won’t back off their boat size and purpose regulations to actually do something about it. I know it’s only a short article, and maybe there are some problems with exporting the cooked crabmeat, but it really does seem like a win-win, and they’re too stuck on government solutions to let people go fix it! Oh gee, if they overfish the INVASIVE ALIEN crab, they might go away, which some people want anyway!

    I just don’t get it.

  39. When I returned to Australia after an absence of over 30 yrs (in 1994) I mentioned to a friend of my brother’s the problem that Floridians had with the “Australian Pine” or Casurina (or as the Australians call it the She-Oak)(the Casurina is a major problem in FL, crowding native species on beachfronts and sand dunes). His reply was that he was glad someone had the same problem they did. (Presumably meaning the same problems they had with invasive species.) At that point I knew to shut up and not mention the many invasive species FLA had suffered (Melaluca (Tea-tree), etc.).

    JB, I am not surprised the ‘coon has thrived in Europe. I recall commuting to work at 4AM in Toronto (extremely urban area) and seeing ‘coons dash across in my headlights.

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