News Stories

New Invasions: Monster Crabs and Stinking Goo

Monster crabs are invading again! Huge crabs have invaded the Antarctic, wiping out local wildlife and ruining ecosystems that have evolved over 14 million years. Three years ago, researchers predicted that as the deep waters of the Southern Ocean warmed, king crabs would invade Antarctica within 100 years, and now they've arrived. They have a voracious appetite and eat everything in their path.

Video footage taken by a submersible shows how crabs prodding, probing and poking holes in the delicate sediments at the bottom of the ocean with the tips of their long legs. In New Scientist, Andy Coghlan quotes biologist Richard Aronson as saying, "Several years ago, my colleagues and I predicted that warming sea temperatures off the west Antarctic Peninsula would allow predatory sea crabs to invade and disrupt the completely unique marine bottom fauna."

And the goo is a gift from Hurricane Irene: "gray blobs" floating atop waterways and strewn along beaches. The blobs--encountered by boaters and beachgoers from tidewater Virginia to Long Island--have been described as being of "various sizes," with the smallest "around the size of a baseball." Reports of their texture range from "kind of rubbery or leathery" to "kind of soft." They've also been described as "ash gray" and "foul smelling."

Cathy Hopkins, who encountered them, describes them as "pretty gross.” Theories about what the objects might be are as numerous as the incoming reports: Old crab floats? Sewage? Tar balls? Ambergris from whales? Sea turtles?

Biologist Emmett Duffy has a simpler explanation: "They’re potato sponges." But most of us don't know what those are. Potato sponges are normally inconspicuous animals (yes, they are animals) that inhabit shallow coastal habitats around the world, growing to about the size of a soccer ball. They look like potatoes and attach to the seafloor with a network of protein fibers and glassy, needle-like "spicules" that form something like an anchor.

But when weather conditions cause large waves and strong currents to scour the seafloor, they can dislodge large numbers of these sponges, freeing them to float to the surface and wash ashore. Clogged with storm debris and no longer able to filter feed, the sponges die. Then they start to smell as decay and bacteria move in to consume the carbohydrates and collagen that form their body.

MOTKE wouldn't be surprised by any of this--he predicted it all in 1998, when he burst into Whitley Strieber's hotel room and told him all about it. You can get a copy of The Key in your local bookstore AND from The Whitley Strieber Collection (where it comes with an autographed bookplate he designed himself!



Cue the Crab March again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzC_RJrPV40

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