Recently, we briefly reported on the first case of parthenogenesis in the decapod Crustacea which was found in the Marmorkrebs or marbled crayfish, a cambarid species of unknown geographic origin and species identity. Curiously, this animal is known only from aquarium populations, where it explosively propagates. By means of light and electron microscopic techniques we have now investigated the reproductive components of this crayfish, using more than 100 specimens ranging from hatchling to repeatedly spawned adult. Additionally, we documented its principal life stages. Our results revealed that the external sexual characters and also the gonads of the marbled crayfish are purely female, making this fast-reproducing species a good model for investigating female reproductive features in crayfish. Testicular tissues, ovotestes, or male gonoducts, gonopores, or gonopods were never found, either in small juveniles or large adult specimens, confirming the parthenogenetic nature of this crayfish. Parthenogenesis may have arisen spontaneously or by interspecific hybridization since Wolbachia-like feminizing microorganisms were not found in the ovaries. The external sexual characters of the marbled crayfish are first recognized in Stage 4 juveniles and are structurally complete approximately 2 months after hatching in specimens of approximately 2 cm total length. In the same life stage the ovary is fully differentiated as well, although the oocytes are in previtellogenic and primary vitellogenic stages only. The architecture of the mature ovary and also the synchronous maturation of cohorts of primary vitellogenic oocytes by secondary vitellogenesis are in general agreement with data published on ovaries of bisexual crayfish. New results were obtained with respect to the muscular nature of the ovarian envelope and its extensive proliferation after the first spawning, the distribution of hemal sinuses in the ovarian envelope and in the interstitium around the oogenetic pouches, the high transport activity of the follicle cells, and the colonization of oogenetic pouches by previtellogenic oocytes that originate in the germaria. Investigation of the nuclei of oocytes in the germaria and oogenetic pouches revealed no signs of meiosis, as usually found in females of bisexual decapods, suggesting that parthenogenesis in the marbled crayfish might be an apomictic thelytoky. The detection of new rickettsial and coccidian infections in the ovary and further organs raises fears that the marbled crayfish might endanger native European species by transmission of pathogens once escaped into the wild.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.