The painted devil crayfish is broad and powerfully built. Overall color is olive green to deep blue, with bright red to burgundy outlining the rostrum (pointed, noselike structure between the eyes) and cervical groove (shallow groove between the head and carapace). The abdomen has 3 evenly spaced cream to red stripes along its length. The tail fan is trimmed with red.
Similar species: The devil crayfish and paintedhand mudbug are other burrowing crayfish that occur in the Mississippi lowlands of southeast Missouri. The devil crayfish is usually uniform olive or tan, lacking obvious blotches or spots except for orange or red on pincer tips or edges of body parts; it is widely distributed in our state. The paintedhand mudbug is generally tan to olive green; its abdominal segments and tail fan are trimmed with red, and its pincers have red spots and red tips. In Missouri, it is known from only a few locations along the western border of the Bootheel.
Length: to about 3¼–4 inches.
In Missouri, known from only a few locations in the Bootheel. The overall range is in the lower Mississippi drainage, in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and eastern and central Texas; it also occurs in Alabama, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.
Habitat and Conservation
The painted devil crayfish is a burrowing lowland species. It spends nearly its entire life within a burrow that extends down to the water table — which is relatively close to the surface in lowland areas. An earthen chimney is a telltale sign that you have found the opening to a crayfish burrow.
Crayfish eat nearly everything, including living and dead plants and animals. Compared to crayfish that spend more time in streams, burrowing crayfish probably eat a larger percentage of insects and other small animals that they encounter when exploring around their burrow entrances.
The painted devil crayfish is a species of conservation concern in Missouri. It is rare and only found in a few places in our state, so it could be easily extirpated from within our borders. Until recently, this was considered a rare, striped, colorful variant of the devil crayfish (Lacunicambarus aff. diogenes).
Mating occurs in fall, and eggs are laid in spring. The young hatch in late spring or early summer, and all spend the summer eating and growing. Crayfish, like other arthropods, periodically shed their exoskeletons as they grow.
People play an important role in destroying, changing, restoring, or preserving the habitats of crayfish and other species. Overharvesting and introducing nonnative species can also jeopardize the survival of native animals. Personal decisions and public policy are both important for protecting our natural world.
Crayfish eat both living and dead plants and animals. Because they can take food from so many sources, then pass it up the food chain, biologists consider crayfish “keystone species.” As in architecture, the keystone at the top of an arch keeps it stable and secure; in a natural community, keystone species help all the members stay connected and supported.