A giant alien black tiger prawn species has appeared in the coastal waters of Texas. Scientists worry that the tiger shrimp could have a dramatic ecological impact, changing the balance of marine life and potentially killing out native species.

The foot-long Asian black tiger shrimp are marketed as tiger prawns. The shrimp are highly aggressive with a voracious appetite for other shrimp and seafood. The species has threatened native species like crabs, oysters and other shrimp.

The species also has a proclivity for disease and scientists worry that the prawns, known to carry at least 16 viruses, could infect native fish and shrimp.

 It has the potential to be real ugly, said Leslie Hartman, Matagorda Bay ecosystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the San Antonio Express News. But we just do not know.

Two hundred tiger prawns have officially been captured in the Gulf. Native to the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the tiger prawns can grow up to 13 inches long. Tony Reisinger with the Texas Extension Service says the shrimp have a life span of approximately three years.

The tiger prawns have been spreading in the Gulf region since 2006, but their population exploded this year. The shrimp have been found in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Caroline, North Carolina and Georgia since 2006.

I definitely think we have a breeding population in the Gulf, Reisinger told The Caller. We caught them in 2006 and in 2011 we're still catching them.

Marine biologists plan to conduct genetic studies on the tiger prawns to determine the exact origin of the invading species and to see if they are potentially coming from multiple sources. While some speculate that the invasion began with the accidental release of farmed prawns in S.C. in 1988, others believe the prawns escaped from industrial shrimp ponds during recent hurricanes in the early 1990s.

Tiger prawns are the most commonly raised shrimp worldwide, but different regulations in the U.S. limits where the shrimp can be farmed. The prawns are banned from Texas shrimp farms.