This crayfish is bright red to reddish-brown, without conspicuous blotches or spots. The pincers are short and heavy, and the high, dome-shaped carapace is longer than the abdomen. The carapace is not separated at its middle by a space (areola).
The prairie crayfish superficially resembles the devil crayfish, another burrowing species. The devil crayfish is never a uniform bright red, as are many adult prairie crayfish. Males of the two species are readily separated by the shape of the gonopod tips (nearly straight in the prairie crayfish, strongly curved in the devil crayfish).