Crayfish: Food and Environmental Indicator


Image from magickcanoe.com

Image from magickcanoe.com

Catching crayfish in the creek behind the house is a common childhood memory for many outdoorsy people. Sometimes gray or brown in color and only about seven inches long, the crayfish is like a small lobster and is food for many animals (including people). But the crayfish is also an important environmental indicator and a rather mysterious creature.

There are many different species of crayfish (also called crawdads, crawfish, or mudbugs, as you like) found throughout the world including North and South America, and parts of Europe and Asia. Not only does the crawdad make for delicious people food, but it is also good bait for various kinds of fish such as catfish and largemouth bass. And if you find these little mudbugs too cute or endearing to roast up or hook up to a fishing line, then they also make great pets.

Aside from how appetizing (or not) we people and other animals may find the crayfish, it is also a very important ecological indicator in some environments. Crayfish are actually very particular in the conditions of their watery habitat. For example, if a creek with a normally high crayfish count suddenly has a dip in the crayfish population, it could be a sign of water pollution, or some other imbalance in the habitat. Many animals rely on the crayfish for food, and a dip in numbers could mean a downhill slide for the entire ecosystem.

As with most wildlife, there are variations in species, and the same holds true for the crayfish. However, while it may be easy to tell the difference between two types of bird, telling the difference between two species of crawfish is difficult at best. To the untrained eye, there may be no perceivable difference, and to an expert eye, it’s all in the fine details. Some crayfish are only identifiable by minute variations in reproductive organs called gonopods which are visible on adult males.

The methods of identifying crayfish are somewhat imprecise. For all that it is tiny delicious morsel, the crayfish is incredibly important in determining the stability of wetlands and other watery habitats.

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