Fun Fact: The study of crayfish is called Astacology which comes from the greek word astakos meaning lobster.
They may be smaller than their coastal relatives, lobsters, but Missouri's crayfish play a big role as an eco-cleansing and fueling powerhouse.
Missouri's largest crustacean is known by many names including crawdad, freshwater lobsters, crawdaddies, crawddy bottoms, and ditch crickets. Scientists usually refer to them as crayfish or crawfish. According to MDC's crayfish expert, Bob DiStefano, nearly everything eats them. "Crayfish support the diet of over 200 species of insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals." DiStefano says, "Crayfish fuel our Ozark stream fisheries making up most of the diet of smallmouth bass, goggle-eye, and largemouth bass, our most important sportfish". They're also efficient at breaking down decaying plants into nutrients for animals at the base of the food chain.
Many crayfish dig tunnels and burrows that also help soils, plants, and cleanse stream bottoms of silt. These in turn provide shelter and habitat for a variety of animals. Crayfish are also important indicators of water quality and add to our biodiversity. Missouri is fortunate to have nearly 40 unique species of crayfish, with eight of these only found in the state.
"In Missouri, water equals crayfish," says Chris Riggert, MDC's Stream Team Coordinator. "While most are found in streams and rivers, crayfish can also be found in ponds, lakes, wetlands, caves, burrows and ditches." Riggert notes that more than 20 of our crayfish are considered at risk because they are rare, have a limited range, and other factors that make them vulnerable to disappearing from the state or planet. Problems occur when crayfish are moved from place to place. Once introduced in new waters, Riggert says, "they can wipe out native crayfish, transfer disease, harm other invertebrates and change native fisheries."
Discover more about Missouri crayfish and how you can help.
Discover crayfish etouffee recipe.
Travel underwater and see crayfish up close, captured by MDC videographer, Kevin Muenks, in the video below.