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Crayfish – Species Overview

Procambarus clarkii

Market Name: Crayfish
Scientific Name: Procambarus clarkii
Common Names: Crawdad, red swamp crayfish, mudbug, crawfish
French Name: Ecrevisse
German Name: Flusskrebs
Japanese Name: Zarigani
Spanish Name: Cangrejo de rio
Sustainability: Ocean Wise Seafood


Procambarus clarkii, known variously as the red swamp crayfish, Louisiana crawfish or mudbug, is a species of cambarid crayfish native to freshwater bodies of northern Mexico, and southern and southeastern United States, but also introduced elsewhere (both in North America and other continents), where it is often an invasive pest.

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P. clarkii is typically dark red, with long claws and head, small or no spines on the sides of its carapace just below the head, and rows of bright red bumps on the front and side of the first leg.


P. clarkii is most commonly found in warm freshwater bodies such as slow-flowing rivers, marshes, reservoirs, irrigation systems and rice paddies. It is considered to be the most ecologically plastic species in the order Decapoda, and is able to grow quickly even in only seasonally present water, being able to tolerate dry spells of up to four months. P. clarkii grows quickly, and is capable of reaching weights in excess of 50 g (1.8 oz) and sizes of 5.5–12 cm (2.2–4.7 in) long. It is also able to tolerate slightly saline water, which is unusual for a crayfish. Additionally, P. clarkii are physiologically capable of tolerating relatively low dissolved oxygen concentrations. The average lifetime of Procambarus clarkii is five years, although some individuals are known to have reached ages (in nature) of over six years.

The burrowing activities of P. clarkii can lead to damage to existing water courses and to crops, particularly rice, and its feeding can disrupt native ecosystems. It may outcompete the native crayfish species, and is a vector for the crayfish plague fungus Aphanomyces astaci, for crayfish virus vibriosis and for a number of worms parasitic on vertebrates. Their burrowing activities may also be a threat to civil infrastructure such as storm ponds and levees.

Where They Live

The native range of P. clarkii is from northern Mexico and far southeastern New Mexico, through the Gulf States to the Florida Panhandle, as well as inland north through the Mississippi Basin to southern Illinois and Ohio. It has also been introduced, sometimes deliberately, outside its natural range to countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the Americas.[1][4] In northern Europe, the populations are self-maintaining but not expanding, while in southern Europe, P. clarkii is multiplying and actively colonizing new territories at the expense of the native crayfish, Astacus astacus and Austropotamobius spp. Individuals are reported to be able to cross many miles of relatively dry ground, especially in wet seasons, although the aquarium trade and anglers may have hastened the spread in some areas (anglers using P. clarkii as fishing bait are thought to have introduced it to the state of Washington). Attempts have also been made to use P. clarkii as a biological control organism, to reduce levels of the snails involved in the lifecycle of schistosomiasis, leading to the dispersal of P. clarkii in, for instance, Kenya.

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