America’s coastal waters are evidently being invaded by giant cannibal shrimp, and their numbers are still growing quickly.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week that sightings of the massive Asian tiger shrimp, which are known to devour their own smaller cousins, were 10 times higher last year than in 2010.
“And they are probably even more prevalent than reports suggest, because the more fisherman and other locals become accustomed to seeing them, the less likely they are to report them,” said Pam Fuller, a biologist with the USGS.
The cannibal shrimp, which can grow to be up to 13 inches long, are normally found in Asian and Australian waters, but they’ve been reported in coastal waters from North Carolina to Texas.
Fortunately, they CAN be eaten by humans.
“They’re supposed to be very good – but they can get very large, sorta like lobsters,” Fuller said.
Still, it’s the eating that the giant cannibal shrimp do themselves that has researchers concerned.
“Are they competing with or preying on native shrimp,” Fuller asked. “It’s also very disease-prone.”
In an effort to get some answers to those key questions, government scientists are now launching a special research project on the creatures.
“The Asian tiger shrimp represents yet another potential marine invader capable of altering fragile marine ecosystems,” said NOAA marine ecologist James Morris in a prepared statement. “Our efforts will include assessments of the biology and ecology of this non-native species and attempts to predict impacts to economically and ecologically important species of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.”
Scientists aren’t sure just how many of the giant cannibal shrimp are now in American waters.
In 1998, about 2,000 of them were inadvertently released from an aquaculture facility in South Carolina.
Three hundred of those were recovered off South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida within a few months.
Farming of the giant shrimp ended in the U.S., but they were caught again off Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida.
Scientists aren’t certain whether or not there’s a breeding population in U.S. waters. Tiger shrimp females can lay 50,000 to a million eggs at a time, which will usually hatch within about 24 hours.
This new study will examine the DNA of collected specimens.
“We’re going to start by searching for subtle differences in the DNA of Asian tiger shrimp found here – outside their native range – to see if we can learn more about how they got here,” said USGS geneticist Margaret Hunter in a prepared statement. “If we find differences, the next step will be to fine-tune the analysis to determine whether they are breeding here, have multiple populations, or are carried in from outside areas.”
More in the video below.
- Scientists: Giant Cannibal Shrimp Invasion Growing (fox8.com)
- On Our Radar: Invasive Tiger Shrimp (green.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Sh-sh-shrimp! Foot-long cannibal prawns increase in Gulf waters (naplesnews.com)