Many ornamental and natural pond owners will at some point look to add some sort of critter to their pond for some added interest or for another reason like algae and aquatic weed control. One of the options that they are sure to see out in the pond market would be crayfish. Crayfish for your pond (Procambarus sp.); also called crawfish, crawdaddys, mudbugs, are pretty commonly offered by pond center retailers. To be sure, crayfish can add interest and a bit of plant and/or algae control to your pond.
Crayfish look like little lobsters, sporting very large front claws much like the Maine Lobster. Also like the Maine Lobster, it is native to the U.S. Crayfish have hard shells that they will molt from time to time. This molting, interestingly, will often occur when the moon is in its full phase. Crawdaddys “gotbout” 10 legs, easily seen when they swim. They can swim forward and backward using powerful thrusts of their tail to propel them. Those 2 large claws are used to defend, fight, and capture; they are very strong and can give a real nice pinch so be careful handling them. The exoskeleton covers the entire body except for the underside, and is usually a shade of brown and red but also a blue variety popular in the aquarium trade; called “electric blue” crayfish (which are pretty cool!). Crayfish have 2 antennae and eyes on the outside of their head.
Crayfish can regenerate lost limbs. They have strong jaws that they will use to eat the shell that they molt. The female crayfish will carry eggs on her abdomen, and baby crayfish will hold onto the mother for a time before they drop off to be on their own. Crayfish have gills to extract oxygen from water, but can also survive extended periods out of the water; sometimes making pretty long overland journeys. In the southern US crayfish, or crawfish as they are called in the south, are grown on crawfish farms and harvested in May, June, and November. They are a very popular regional cuisine prepared in flavorful “boils” and very tasty; eaten like shrimp or tiny lobsters. The new comer to this cuisine may be surprised when they are told to “suck the head”! But let’s not eat any crayfish from our backyard ponds, ok? Crawfish are readily available from the farms, and we should leave it to the pros to provide us with edible crawdaddys!
When purchasing crayfish for your pond you should know that they are generally sold as “crayfish” but there are actually several varieties available. The varieties are difficult to tell apart, and need to be looked at very closely by someone who knows crayfish pretty well; and that typically is not going to happen. One variety (species) Procambarus fallix virginalis, reproduces by cloning itself. Ponds that have very high crayfish populations probably have the “virgin crayfish” variety; and those populations’ numbers can get very high, so they will need to be thinned from time to time. The annual spring cleanout for your pond is a good time to remove the overpopulation.
Crayfish are very hardy and can handle a very wide range of water quality and temperature extremes pretty well. They are filter feeders and scavengers with a diet ranging from snails and small fish, to plants, algae, and other crayfish! They will also easily accept any prepared foods you offer too. Crayfish are shy and not very visible in the pond and will generally hide during the day, get active at dusk. In natural ponds they will burrow into the mud banks or an area around the pond during winter; while in liner or concrete style ponds they will settle into leaf piles, plants, silt pockets, or wherever available. If you are intentionally keeping crayfish, offer them somewhere to winter over.
The benefits of keeping crayfish is that they are easy to keep and have a very minor effect in the control of algae and aquatic weeds, they help create a more complete ecosystem in your pond, they are very fun to have because you don’t see them that often, and they can offer some recreation in a natural pond by fishing them. In natural ponds they also offer a natural source of food for game fish and aquatic birds. Keep an ear open for the next crawfish festival where you can learn how to enjoy them in a whole different way!! And remember….SUCK THE HEAD!!
All copyrights to this material is solely owned by Mike Gannon.