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Crab Discovery of Interest to Genetic Scientists


Jerry Springer the crab is now in the hands of scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Gloucester Point, Virginia. Rom Lipcius is a professor at the institute. He's been studying Jerry Springer the crab.

Professor, have you seen anything like this before?

Professor ROM LIPCIUS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science): Personally I've never seen a gynandromorph like this, no, not in about 25 years of study.

HANSEN: Did you say gynandromorph?

Prof. LIPCIUS: It's a gynandromorph, yes. That's to distinguish it from a true hermaphrodite such as barnacles and some shrimp that are actually truly hermaphrodites that contain both sexes.

HANSEN: So at what point in the crab's development does the gender get fixed? Is this some kind of genetic accident?

Prof. LIPCIUS: Well, from our geneticist colleagues, yes, it appears that it happens very early on, probably in the embryonic stages, you know, during cell division in the embryo. It occurs probably once every three, four, five years that people notice this, but it was only published about 25 years ago, and, you know, given that we catch on the order of a hundred million or so crabs each year in Chesapeake Bay, it's an extremely rare occurrence.

HANSEN: Now can this crab mate with itself?

Prof. LIPCIUS: Well, it would--since females mate when they're soft, I suppose it's possible. That is because it would have to harden up first on the male side and then be able to fertilize itself. It is possible but more likely if it mated it probably mated with another male crab.

HANSEN: Do you plan to put a male crab in there to see what happens?

Prof. LIPCIUS: Well, it's too late now 'cause the crab is already hardened up. So if it mated, it probably already did so, and, in fact, the other occurrence of the gynandromorph that was published, in fact, did have sperm packets inside and had live or developing ovaries. So it, in fact, had mated. So it's very likely that this crab, in fact, mated and so what we're waiting for is to see if it'll produce an egg mass.

HANSEN: How long do you expect the crab to live?

Prof. LIPCIUS: Well, it's quite healthy and there's no reason to believe that it's going to die any time soon. So normal female crabs can produce upwards of six, seven egg masses if they're not fished, and so that could take a few years. So it's possible that crab could live for quite some time.

HANSEN: Is it going to stay in the aquarium at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science?

Prof. LIPCIUS: We do plan on keeping it there and observing it. Yes, we do. And at some point, however, we will give it once it dies or if we planned it to actually have it given to the geneticists, then they will take it and dissect it to try to understand a little more about gender determination in blue crabs which is relatively unknown.

HANSEN: Rom Lipcius is a Marine ecologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Thanks very much.

Prof. LIPCIUS: Thank you.

HANSEN: And you can see pictures of Jerry Springer the crab on our Web site at npr.org.

It's 22 minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.