There are some things that shouldn’t be allowed to swim in the gene pool. If you’re a fan of boiled lobster, shrimp or crayfish, this may be one of them. Researchers studying the Lut Desert (Dasht-e Lut) in east-central Iran. considered to be the hottest place on Earth, dipped into a small seasonal lake and discovered a new species of freshwater Crustacea – the same diverse family of lobsters, shrimp, crabs and crayfish. Could one chance encounter between this species and one of your favorites put an end to boils, gumbo and rolls?
“During an expedition to such an extreme place you are always on alert, in particular when finding water. Discovering crustaceans in this otherwise hot and dry environment was really sensational.”
On a 2017 expedition to research the Lut Desert’s ecology, biodiversity, geomorphology and paleontology, Dr. Hossein Rajaei, an entomologist from the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Alexander V Rudov from Tehran University found a rare pond in an area that NASA satellite scans show once hit 80.3°C (176.5°F) and averages 50.4°C (122.7°F) in the summer. According to their report on the expedition, published recently in the journal Zoology in the Middle East, the team discovered the strange crustaceans in a shallow pool (annual precipitation never exceeds 30 mm (1.1 inches)) in an otherwise abiotic area with no other living creatures or plants.
“These Crustaceans are able to survive for decades in the dried-out sediment and will hatch in an upcoming wet season, when the aquatic habitat refills. They are perfectly adapted to live in deserts environments. Their ability to survive even in the Lut desert highlights their resilience.”
As told in the press release, the team took the crustaceans to Dr. Martin Schwentner, a Crustacea specialist at the Natural History Museum of Vienna, who confirmed it was different than any other crustacean he’d ever seen and declared it a new species that manages to survive where other crustaceans would boil, not to mention humans. (Photo here.) The team agreed to name the new species Phallocryptus fahimii in honor of Iranian conservation biologist, Hadi Fahimi, who took part in the 2017 expedition and died in a plane crash in 2018.
What about the crawfish boil? Will we need more heat or will Meemaw scream when her crawdaddy runs away?
Good question. Tell your Meemaw she has nothing to worry about … yet. Crustaceans are a diverse family whose members often resemble insects (think woodlice) or aliens (think Barnacles). They seem to have evolved into their diversities rather than crossbred, but in this age of CRISPR gene editing, an artificial hybrid is certainly possible. In a world where there are lobster, shrimp, crab and crayfish shortages due to overfishing and overeating, making them boil-resistant could be a way to save them.