People in the UK have been asked to report sightings of Chinese mitten crabs, an invasive species of concern whose population is thought to be growing.
Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir sinensis) are crustaceans native to East Asia named for their furry, brown, mitten-like claws. Their bodies can be a greenish grey to dark brown colour, usually growing to about 8 centimetres, with their legs extending to twice that length.
Over the past century, the crabs have spread around the world, including Europe and North America, where they are deemed an invasive species. They are typically found in freshwater habitats, such as rivers, canals and estuaries.
Chinese mitten crabs can wreak havoc on the environment by burrowing into river beds, blocking waterways and damaging fishing gear with their sharp claws. There are also concerns that they could eat fish eggs and outcompete native species for resources.
The species was first spotted in the UK in 1935 in the river Thames and has since become established in waters around the country. More recently, there has been a flurry of crabs seen scurrying around waterways in Cambridgeshire.
The Natural History Museum is running “Mitten Crab Watch” – an initiative for members of the public to submit their mitten crab sightings. The UK Department for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs is also encouraging people to report sightings, which can help track the crab population and prevent the movement of eggs.
“Numbers are rising because they have a very unusual life history. After the migration downstream, adult females may be able to produce three spawnings of eggs,” Paul Clark at the Natural History Museum told Mail Online. Each spawning can produce between 500,000 and 1 million eggs, said Clark.
In a bid to tackle the rising population of these crabs in the UK, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, Welland and Deepings Internal Drainage Board and the Natural History Museum installed the first permanent Chinese mitten crab trap in Pode Hole, Lincolnshire, in August.