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Crayfish of North America

Updated on November 22, 2014

Crayfish - Crawfish - Crawdads

Crayfish, also known as crawfish, crawdads, and other local names are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters.

About 390 species of crayfish are found in North America, most ranging from 1-4 inches in length.

The majority of crayfish species occur east of the Rocky Mountains and in the Southeastern states.

Crayfish shed their shells (molt) as often as every few days. Crayfish usually seek shelter when molting. Until their new shell hardens, they are vulnerable to a number of threats including fish, birds, mammals, and other crayfish.

In southern states of the USA, they are grown for food. Crawfish boils and festivals are popular in Louisiana and other areas of the South.

Crayfish are popular pets among aquarium enthusiasts. Anglers also seek these crustaceans out for use as bait for freshwater fishing.

Species of Farm Raised Crawfish

In North America, three species of crawfish are commonly raised on crawfish farms:

* red crawfish (Procambarus clarkii), also known as red swamp crawfish

* white crawfish (Procambarus blanding acutus), also known as white river crawfish

* deep water white crawfish(Procambarus zonangulus)

Louisiana is by far the largest producer of crawfish in the United States. The majority of Louisiana crawfish farms grow red swamp or white river crawfish, both native to the region

Crayfish Farming Books

Red Swamp Crayfish

The red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) is a freshwater crayfish species native to the Southeastern United States.

The species has been introduced into other areas of North America and across other continents and in some areas is considered an invasive pest.

Red swamp crayfish are known for their fast growth, reproduction, and ability to survive harsh environments.

Other names for the species include red crawfish, Louisiana crawfish or Louisiana crayfish.

cooked crawfish
cooked crawfish

How To Cook Crawfish

Crawfish are served boiled, fried or as an ingredient in gumbo, etouffee, and a variety of other dishes. Crawfish boils are a celebrated tradition in Louisiana.

To prepare live crayfish for the table, wash in cool, clean water. Discard any dead or non-responsive individuals. After washing, the crayfish can be blanched in boiling water for about five minutes.

Boiling cooks the meat, kills bacteria and turns the crayfish a brilliant red color. After cooking, the meat can be removed from the claws and tail. Once cooked, crawfish may be served hot or cold.

Freshwater Crayfish Aquaculture in North America, Europe, and Australia

Freshwater Crayfish Aquaculture in North America, Europe, and Australia is the first text to summarize the methods of culture for the eight most important crayfish species in the world. Methods developed to culture crayfishes around the world differ significantly, and this book enables readers to develop workable strategies for cultivating different crayfish species in specific environments.

crawfish for bait
crawfish for bait

Crayfish for Freshwater Fishing

Crayfish are popular as live baits in freshwater fishing. They are often available near fishing hotspots, hiding under rocks along the shoreline or in shallow streams nearby.

Anglers typically remove the claws, hook crayfish thru the back or tail and cast them gently to avoid loosing baits.

Because some species of crayfish are considered to be invasive species, using live crayfish for fishing bait is unlawful in some states.

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rusty crayfish
rusty crayfish

Rusty Crayfish

Rusty crayfish can be identified by their brown body and large claws. The claws are grayish-green to reddish-brown with dark black bands on the tips. Other identifying markings include two rusty patches on either side of the crayfish's body, although these patches may be less pronounced on crayfish in some regions.

Rusty crayfish eat small fish, insects, and fish eggs. They also eat aquatic vegetation, damaging underwater habitat that is important for fish spawning, cover, and food. They are aggressive and displace native crayfish. Rusty crayfish are prolific; females can produce over 500 eggs.

Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) are native to streams in the Ohio River Basin states of Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee. Currently the rusty crayfish has expanded its range to include Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and most of the New England States as well as Ontario, Canada.

photo credit: Jeff Gunderson, Minnesota Sea Grant.

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