The golden crayfish is quite variable in color. It is typically olive green suffused with golden yellow. The antennae and many body parts are trimmed with bright red. A dark band crosses the head just in front of the cervical groove (the groove on the carapace separating the head and thorax), and another crosses the carapace at its junction with the abdomen. The tips of the fingers are red, sometimes bordered by conspicuous black bands. This crayfish is distinguished from most other crayfish within its range by its olive green and red coloration without conspicuous blotches, mottling, or spots.
Color variations generally correspond with locality. Some of these populations may represent different species.
- Meremec and Niangua drainages: Olive specimens trimmed with bright red.
- Current River: Rich orange-brown specimens trimmed with a subdued orange.
- Northeast Missouri: Specimens typically have a black band behind the reddish tips of the pincers.
Adult length: about 1 to 3½ inches.
Almost statewide. The golden crayfish is one of the most abundant and widely distributed crayfish in our state, occurring throughout the northern Ozarks, in the Current River and in prairie streams of northeastern Missouri.
Habitat and Conservation
The golden crayfish lives in streams with permanent flow, in swift water and in riffles over rocky bottoms and in beds of emergent aquatic plants. It is an active, agile species and a strong swimmer and excavates cavities beneath rocks in a gravelly substrate, where it hides when not actively foraging.
Crayfish are generally omnivores, eating a wide variety of plant and animal materials.
One of the most common crayfish species over much of the Ozarks, but it is not native to the Black, Eleven Point, White, and Neosho stream drainages.
It has been introduced into multiple locations within the White River drainage near Springfield, resulting in declines in native crayfish populations. In those locations, this species is considered invasive.
Most mating probably occurs in the fall, and females carry eggs between March and May. As with other crayfish, after the eggs hatch, the female continues to carry the young around as they grasp the underside of her abdomen. When they are carrying eggs and young, females of this species apparently hide in deep cavities or crevices, where they are less vulnerable to predation.
Crayfish are eaten by many species that humans hunt and fish. Crayfish commonly serve humans as fish bait, and many people eat crayfish, too. Crayfish are fascinating, colorful creatures in their own right, and part of our rich native heritage.
Crayfish are an important link in the food chain between plants and other animals, breaking down plant materials that are resistant to decay. Crayfish in turn are an important food for many other animals. Presence of crayfish in a stream or pond usually indicates good water quality.