Devil crayfish live over a wide range, and are perhaps the most widespread of all crayfish in the United States. They have been found in thirty states and the District of Columbia, from Ontario, CA to Texas and from Wyoming to North Carolina, spanning an estimated 2 million km².
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) It is extremely widespread; from the Rockies to southern Canada to New Jersey and throughout the Mississippi River basin and Great Lakes (Hobbs, 1989). Pflieger (1996) lists range as much of the eastern United States east of a line from eastern Texas to central Minnesota, except the Florida peninsula and much of the Appalachians, and westward along the Missouri and Platte Rivers to southern North Dakota, eastern Wyoming and Colorado.
Devil crayfish are crustaceans related to lobsters (Family Nephropidae) and shrimp (Infraorder Caridea). They have hard exoskeletons that serve as protection from predatory animals. Coloring of these crayfish can vary but they tend to be dark reddish-brown or gray. Bright pastel red and blue individuals have also been found and young crayfish are mostly green, while older individuals are mostly dark brown. Two color variants have been observed in this species, a solid color phase (the most typical) and a striped phase. Devil crayfish resemble miniature lobsters, with spines, ten legs, a rostrum (extending in front of its eyes) with an acumen (pointed apical tip), and a pair of chelae (large claws). Gills are tucked underneath the body. Males differ from females in having a long rostrum with a narrower, more tapered acumen and larger, heavier chelae.
Range length: 40 to 61 mm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes shaped differently
Dactyl of chela with broad concavity in basal half of opposable margin; areola obliterated and about 40% of TCL; lacking overreaching median spine on inner ramus of uropod; male 1st pleopods as described above.
Devil crayfish are burrowing crayfish found primarily in freshwater. Individuals spend most of their life-cycle in underground chambers near marshy and swampy areas of rivers, streams, and ponds. These underground tunnels, each with only one inhabitant, have several openings at the surface, which may have chimneys formed by excavated dirt. These tunnels provide excellent shelter and protection during feeding, mating, egg laying and rearing young, and are deep enough to reach ground water during periods of drought and to avoid freezing winter temperatures. Mean burrow depth ranges from 57.5 cm in autumn to 61.9 cm in spring. Burrows also serve as microhabitats for amphipods and isopods.
Range depth: 0.575 to 0.619 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; freshwater
Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams
Wetlands: marsh ; swamp
Habitat and Ecology
Their burrows usually have mud chimneys, but they are not as deep as the burrows of Fallicambarus fodiens (Taylor et al. 2005).
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Comments: Can be excavated almost anywhere where water table is near surface; lives as primary burrower in burrows constructed in timbered and formerly timbered areas along streams and ditches (Pflieger, 1996). In Texas, it burrows near permanent streams and is in surface waters during sprign and after rains but usually remains within the immediate vicinity of its burrow.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Devil crayfish are scavengers and predators. About 60% of their diet is comprised of living or decaying aquatic vegetation with the other 40% made up of aquatic worms, insects, snails and detritus.
Animal Foods: insects; mollusks; aquatic or marine worms
Plant Foods: leaves
Other Foods: detritus
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore ); omnivore ; detritivore
Comments: Opportunistic; herbivore as habitat dictates.
Devil crayfish play an important role in the aquatic ecosystem as predators and have been observed to have a net positive effect on prey animal populations. They also function as ecosystem engineers, providing extensive burrowing tunnels and systems throughout aquatic habitats. The larvae of an endangered species (Hines emerald dragonfly, Somatochlora hineana) regularly inhabit devil crayfish burrows in the late summer when their own larval habitats dry up. Devil crayfish are also a threat to populations of this species because they are are known to prey on larvae. Devil crayfish are hosts to a number of parasites, including a leech-like worm (Cambarincola macrodonta), flukeworms and many ostracods.
Ecosystem Impact: creates habitat; biodegradation
- Cambarincola macrodonta (Family Branchiobdellidae, Phylum Annelida)
- Cymocythere gonia (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Dactylocythere cryptoteresis (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Dactylocythere coloholca (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Dactylocythere crawfordi (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Dactylocythere crena (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Dactylocythere macroholca (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Dactylocythere prionata (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Uncinocythere zancla (Class Ostracoda, Phylum Arthropoda)
- Trematodes (Phylum Platyhelminthes)
This species is prey to more than 200 predatory species, including various fishes, raccoons, Virginia opossum, red foxes, barred owls, Eastern newts, muskrats, crows, spotted salamanders, Eastern painted turtles, Northern water snakes, and red-tailed hawks. Two-thirds of this species' population is consumed by fish. Their burrows, as well as their small size and ability to move quickly, lend individuals some protection from predation. An anti-predator adaptation in this species is a tail-flip response, a rapid flip of the tail segments that allows individuals to quickly flee in the opposite direction. This response also acts as a warning system, signaling others to follow suit.
- Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
- Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
- Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)
- Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
- Barred owl (Strix varia)
- Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
- American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
- Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
- Eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta)
- Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
- Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon)
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300
Comments: Hobbs et al. (1976) documented it in the Savannah River Plant Park (on the Savannah River) in southwest South Carolina not in the Savannah River proper but in the immediate area. It is widespread across east central and eastern Texas (Johnson and Johnson, 2008). In Georgia, most populations occur on the Coastal Plain but a few also occur in the Piedmont Province (Skelton, 2010). In the Cumberland Plateau, it occurs throughout (Bouchard, 1974). In Alabama, known from all river systems except the Cahaba, Pascagoula, and Perdido (Mirarchi et al., 2004; in appendix 1-2 published separately; Schuster and Taylor, 2004; Schuster and Taylor, 2008). In Kentucky, it is generally distributed in the western half of the state (Taylor and Schuster, 2004). In Missouri, it is nearly statewide but apparently absent from the southwestern Ozarks (White and Neosho drainages) (Pflieger, 1996). In Kansas, it occurs in the northeast in eastern Kansas and Marais des Cygnes River basins (Ghedotti, 1998). In South Carolina, it is documented from most coastal plains counties (Eversole and Jones, 2004). Francois (1959) cites it in New Jersey from Cape May, Cumberland, Mercer, Morris Cos. and from Bucks, Delaware, and Philadelphia Cos., Pennsylvania. NCSM has records from Salem, Cape May, and Camden Cos., New Jersey. It was recently documented in the vicinity of Plummers Island (bank of Potomac River), Montgomery Co., Maryland (Norden, 2008). In Maryland, it is the most common burrowing species in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions and is considered stable (Killian et al., 2010). In Ohio it occurs in a few sterams in the western part of the state, probably by way of the Wabash River system (Thoma and Jezerinac, 2000). It has also been documented in western New York (Gall and Jezerinac, 1998). In Canada it occurs in southwestern Ontario from the Welland River in the east to just west of Long Point; extending west to the Niagara Peninsula as well as the northeastern shoreline of Lake Erie with one anomalous record far north in Rainy River District near Atikokan (Giasu et al., 1996; Hamr, 2006). Hamr (2006) documented 18 Ontario populations.
Comments: In Canada, burrow density ranged from 0.25 to 4.5 per sq. m (Hamr, 2006).
Life History and Behavior
Devil crayfish have eyes on movable stalks, allowing them to see in different directions. They use their antennae and chelae, which are covered in tiny hairs, to detect prey and predator animals by sensing water movements. In order to identify and signal readiness for mating to other crayfish, they emit chemical cues, including female pheromones which males sense via their antennules.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical
Comments: Nocturnal except for emergence from burrow to breed.
After devil crayfish hatch, young cling tightly to their mothers' pleopods using their claws. Young stay with the mother through their first and second molts and most of the third. During the first larval stage, devil crayfish measure about 4.5 mm and are still somewhat embryonic. While in the second larval stage, young detach and swim away from their mothers, returning throughout the second and third stages and remaining near their mothers until they are able to be independent. Juveniles will grow up to 20 mm during the fall, and by their second summer they reach 30 to 35 mm, molting into mature adults.
Devil crayfish can live three years or more.
Status: wild: 3 years.
Devil crayfish are solitary animals, meeting with other individuals only during mating season. Females release pheromones, signaling their readiness to mate. These pheromones are detected by males through their antennules (short antennae). Males court females by touching them with their antennae and claws. Males deposit sperm into females' sperm receptacles during copulation, plugging them afterwards to prevent further mating.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
This species reproduces annually, with breeding occurring predominantly in the fall. Egg-laying occurs in spring after temperatures have risen and photoperiods extend. All devil crayfish eggs are attached to the mother's pleopods for at least four weeks (the composition of the attachment is unknown). Females can lay up to 200 eggs, but only 10% typically survive past the first year.
Breeding interval: Devil crayfish breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Fall
Average number of offspring: 200.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
While devil crayfish mate in the fall, they wait until the warmer spring temperatures to lay their eggs. After they have been laid, eggs are attached to the mothers until hatching via a hardened mass. After hatching, the larvae are in the first larval stage and firmly attached to their mother's pleopods, living an embryo-like existence. Even after molting into the second and third larval stage, the larvae still rely heavily on their mother because they are incapable of being freely living. However, after the second stage the larvae detach themselves from their mothers, although they return to her often. After molting into the third larval stage, young continue to stay with their mothers for protection until reaching full maturity.
Parental Investment: female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female)
Amplexus in fall; spring brooding.
According to the IUCN Red List, devil crayfish are of Least Concern (LC) status, as they occupy a wide range of habitats and are highly tolerant to many ecological conditions. However, this species is locally threatened by anthropogenic changes including lake acidification and wetland destruction, though its wide distribution should guarantee its continued survival.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: This species is extremely widespread; from the Rockies to southern Canada to New Jersey and throughout the Mississippi River basin. It is stable an secure (millions of individuals and range > 2,500,000 sq. km) throughout its range.
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Not intrinsically vulnerable
Environmental Specificity: Moderate to broad.
Comments: Simon and Morris (2008) found this species to be much more tolerant of high concentrations of sediment contaminants in the Patoka River watershed, Indiana, than aquatic tertiary burrowing species.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)
Global Long Term Trend: Increase of 10-25% to decline of 30%
Degree of Threat: Low
Comments: It is unlikely that there are any major threats impacting Cambarus diogenes.
Part of this species' range occurs within a federally protected area (Long Point National Wildlife Area Canadian Wildlife Service) (Taylor et al. 2005). However, further research should be implemented to establish the life history of this species.
Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed
Comments: In Canada, 39% of populations occur in protected areas (Hamr, 2006).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of devil crayfish on humans.
This species is important to the food industry in a number of ways. It serves as bait, particularly for bass, trout, perch, carp and catfish, and it is also consumed by humans. Devil crayfish keep water quality levels high by eating dead animal and plant material from streams, and they control insect populations as well.
Positive Impacts: food ; controls pest population
Comments: Often cited as pest for burrowing into dykes, levees, etc.
Cambarus diogenes (known as the devil crayfish, chimney crayfish, thunder crawfish or meadow crayfish) is a crayfish that grows to be 11.5 centimetres (4.5 in), not including the claws. It tends to live in wetlands and moist woodlands. They are most active in the summer and spring where they can be found near streams and floodplains near their mud chimney, where they live.
- "Cambarus diogenes". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
- Arthur V. Evans. Field Guide To Insects And Spiders Of North America. Sterling Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-4027-4153-1.
- J. Cordeiro, T. Jones & R. F. Thoma (2010). "Cambarus diogenes". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: This is a species complex currently under investigation.
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