What’s in a name? A lot apparently if you’re a crayfish. These feisty crustaceans also go by the names of ‘crawfish’, ‘crawdad’, and ‘crawdab’ depending on what part of the country you live in, three fairly similar names, but they can additionally be known by the names of ‘shawgashee,’ ‘yabby / yabbie,’ and ‘koura.’ In fact, this paper from the Smithsonian Institute, published in 1994, alleges that there are a whopping 1,474 names for freshwater crayfish around the world. I suspect this does not include one particularly popular synonym that we often use in America: “dinner.”
Most people find crayfish relatively uninteresting as pets. In fact, most people find them relatively uninteresting in general. If you are keeping one as a pet, you’ll quickly find them to be belligerent, rampantly destructive, and moody. If you’re not keeping one as a pet, you’ll quickly find that eating them is kind of like eating a lobster, but less rewarding in the “meat : amount of work to get the meat” ratio. This is probably why lobsters are considered high-class cuisine while crayfish are just a quick snack. If you’re neither keeping them as pets nor eating them (which probably means you’re trying to catch one or to use one to catch something else), you’re probably finding out that they can pinch really hard. This is not exactly an endearing trait to most people.
In reality, the crayfish is a particularly interesting animal. It shamelessly reorganizes a carefully laid-out aquarium to suit its own tastes at the expense of some equally expensive plants and rushes to pick a fight with anything that moves in an unmatched display of bravado (see below photo). It has no qualms about climbing the filter tubing in an attempt to escape (where it will dry out and perish), nor does it mind constantly prodding the nomadic snail that shares its abode. Squishy things are generally of interest, including fingers.
When left unfed for too long, the crayfish tends to throw a tantrum, stalking around the tank constantly waving its antennae and appendages in vain search for comestibles. At this point, it becomes more inclined to pick fights or to trash the tank. Sharing of space, food, and just about anything else is taboo, and curious houseguests are quickly repelled by a challenge to “take it outside.” Finally, the crayfish shares an appreciation with us humans, namely an appreciation of the tastiness of other crayfish.
The crayfish is also very versatile. Boil it and it becomes a tasty snack. Hook it up to a fishing rod and it may attract a fish, which in turn becomes a tasty snack. Or put it in a fish tank and consider what kind of tasty snack it will become. I jest on the last one, but I suspect that this is how commercial breeders may view their stock.
This long-winded post has been leading up to the contents of my new planted aquarium, which is occupying prime real estate on my desk. I’ve shared my residence with some kind of animal (if not several dozen) since kindergarten, and not having one in my dorm room last year made it a bit lonely at times. But now that I’m a sponsor and have a single, I can kind of keep whatever I want, so I brought a few lizards when I moved in for sponsor training and then added two more tanks after winter break. Rather than acquiring fish (many of which are also tasty), I decided to go with a crustacean. Contrary to what this post may have suggested thus far, my decision was not based on what animal I thought would be the tastiest. I would have purchased a chicken if that were the case. I stopped by my local fish store on the way back from picking up the crickets for my reptiles (to be described in a future blog post); much to my delight, they stocked a healthy variety of crayfish. But which one to buy? A little refresher of a Google search reminded me that crayfish eat plants. How disappointing. Until I found nature’s exception: the Cajun Dwarf Crayfish (Cambarellus shufeldtii).
When in doubt, assume that there’s an exception because there always is. Through the wonders of genetics, these little dwarfs have been bred into a blue color palette ranging from steel blue to teal. Better yet, their proclivity for munching on vegetation is practically zero (although I caught one yesterday in the act of nibbling on a stem). In any event, a trio has taken up residence in my tank.
It may strike some as odd that a crayfish would make for a good pet. No dogs or cats allowed in the dorms, but what about something like a hamster or something else furry? Something you can hold or cuddle with or whatever else you do with furry things. First of all, I assure that you if you keep reading my posts for the rest of the year, you will quickly realize that the crayfish is probably one of the most normal pets that I have ever owned. Secondly, if you pay attention to those posts, you will also realize that I have never owned anything with fur. Blame it on my parents. Instead, I’ve owned invertebrates for fifteen years, fish for eight, and reptiles and amphibians for three. These are rarely normal pets (no, my fish are not goldfish I won at some fair / that’s ethically wrong), but think how different my college application would have been if I had been like some other kids and owned some rambunctious pooch or snooty feline. How drab. And Pomona doesn’t admit drab people. So the real moral of this story is that if you want your kid to go to Pomona, you should invest in unusual pets. Please do not interpret this to mean that I support ownership of primates, large cats, etc. Those are not unusual pets, they are dangerous pets. A tiger can eat you. All a gecko can do is escape, run around your house for a week, and finally realize that its cage is the lap of luxury and try to get back in of its own free will (this is what I tell myself anyway). Personally, I have never met someone who has a phobia of crayfish; kabourophobia is apparently the word for a general fear of things with pinchers, but this probably isn’t in any dictionary.
In any event, you may or may not find owning a crayfish to be a rewarding experience; I’m certainly not a fortuneteller, and the crayfish is certainly not the most lovable animal. But owning a crayfish is an interesting experience. In owing a crayfish, you can learn how to love an animal that will literally bite the hand that feeds it, that is constantly seeking an escape route to its own demise, and that destroys your lovely aquascaping.
You will also learn the graphic details about how it molts, why it eats its own molt, and what to do when it molts. If these things sound interesting to you, great! Stop by your local fish store (i.e. not Petsmart and Petco) and see what they have. If these things horrify you, then I recommend that you instead go to this informational website that is probably better suited to your tastes.