The UK is experiencing a widespread invasion of Chinese mitten crabs, as shown on a map, causing damage to riverbanks and potentially inflicting a painful nip if threatened. These invasive crustaceans were first discovered in the UK in 1935 and have recently been observed in London and Cambridgeshire, including at a park in southwest London, a dyke in Whittlesey, and a country park in Peterborough. Since their appearance in the River Thames in 1973, Chinese mitten crabs have expanded to other rivers such as the Tyne, Humber, Medway, Wharfe, Ouse, Tamar, and Dee. In 2016, they were categorized as “widely spread” across the UK based on more than 800 records submitted to the Natural History Museum’s “Mitten Crab Watch.”
An interactive map reveals confirmed sightings of these crabs in various locations across Britain, including London, Newcastle, Manchester, Swansea, Glasgow, and Brighton. Luana Factor, a vet specializing in exotic animal care at Hermit Crab Answers, warns of further spread across the UK due to the species’ adaptability and migratory behavior. Chinese mitten crabs can disrupt ecosystems by damaging riverbanks, competing with native species for resources, blocking water outlets, and damaging fishing gear.
Reports of Chinese mitten crabs appearing on roads and in ponds in Cambridgeshire have raised concerns. The Nene Park Trust advises visitors to keep their distance from the crabs, which may nip if approached too closely. The trust acknowledges the crabs’ natural spread through UK waterways and their impact on the fishing industry and riverbanks. The Natural History Museum has also reported that these invasive crabs can grow to the size of dinner plates.
Recent sightings include a video captured by Andy Litchfield in Bushy Park, southwest London, where the crab defensively raised its claws. Chinese mitten crabs are listed among 30 non-native species of concern in Europe due to their invasiveness. These crabs possess furry claws that adorn their front claws, distinguishing them from other crustaceans. Their presence in freshwater is temporary as they embark on a journey back to saltwater expanses during autumn, overcoming obstacles such as human-engineered dams.
Chinese mitten crabs are believed to have traveled from eastern China to Europe and North America through sediment found in ships’ ballast tanks. Their drive to spawn and complete their life cycle inadvertently leads to destruction, causing damage to waterways and fishing industries. Ms. Factor notes that their ability to naturally migrate and establish in different waterways has contributed to their spread not only in the UK but also in other parts of Europe and North America. These crabs have a gray-green to dark brown body with dense brown fur on their white-tipped claws and inhabit freshwater rivers and streams, requiring brackish and saltwater environments for reproduction.
The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs clarifies that there is no legal fishery for Chinese mitten crabs in the UK. If caught as bycatch, they cannot be sold live for human consumption. The department encourages reporting sightings to prevent the movement of crab eggs and advises individuals to take photos for documentation. Recent sightings have occurred at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Fen Drayton Nature Reserve near Huntingdon, where Simon Passey witnessed the creature.
In conclusion, the invasion of Chinese mitten crabs across the UK poses ecological concerns, damaging riverbanks and potentially affecting the fishing industry. The spread of these invasive crustaceans is evident on an interactive map, with confirmed sightings in various locations. Experts warn of further expansion due to the species’ adaptability and migratory behavior. The Natural History Museum encourages reporting sightings to track their spread. Despite their unique claws and temporary residence in freshwater, Chinese mitten crabs can cause unintended destruction. The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs emphasizes the importance of not selling these crabs for human consumption.
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