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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 15:51 EDT

Red Swamp Crayfish

The Red Swamp Crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, also commonly known as the Red Swamp Crawfish, Louisiana Crawfish or Louisiana Crayfish, is a freshwater crayfish species. Charles Frédéric Girard named the genus in honor of John H. Clark, who in 1851 surveyed the U.S. American border. Although native to the southeastern United States, it is also found on other continents, where it is considered an invasive nuisance.

The Red Swamp Crayfish natively ranges along the Gulf coast from northern Mexico to the Florida panhandle, as well as inland to southern Illinois and Ohio, and has even been introduced in countries outside its native region. In northern Europe, populations are controlled, while in southern Europe, this species of crayfish is rapidly multiplying and posing risk to native crayfish of that region.

In areas where there are a large number of snails carrying parasites that cause schistosomiasis, an infection of the blood caused by a parasitic flatworm, Red Swamp Crayfish have been utilized as a biological control organism to help reduce population of snails.

Warm fresh water sources, like slow-flowing rivers, marshes, reservoirs, irrigation systems and rice paddies make suitable habitats for Red Swamp Crayfish. In the entire Order Decapoda, it is considered the most ecologically plastic species. It grows at a quick rate even in seasonally present water. It can withstand droughts for up to four months. This species is known to tolerate salt water in small amounts, which is not typical of other crayfish. The crustacean can reach 2 to 5 inches in length, and only weigh less than a pound. The average lifespan for this species is 5 years, although in nature some have reached over 6 years.

Due to its rapid growth and ecological tolerance, Red Swamp Crayfish are farmed easily and abundantly in over 200 square miles of cultivated land, for a large million-dollar industry in Louisiana. Spain also cultivates Red Swamp Crayfish for the purpose of using the crustacean to colonize disturbed habitats that would otherwise be unsuitable for native crayfish. Additionally, Red Swamp Crayfish is marketed for the purpose of teaching and research by biological supply companies.

The species is sometimes attributed as a nuisance for its burrowing activities and disruptive feeding habits. They cause much damage by tunneling under water courses and crops, specifically rice crops. They feed on native organisms that are necessary to the ecosystem causing destruction to the ecosystem. This particular species can out-compete the native species, and is a host to many parasites that cause viruses.

Traditionally, Red Swamp Crayfish reproduce sexually, but recent research proposes it may also be able to replicate by parthenogenesis.

Red Swamp Crayfish