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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Missouri's Crayfish

Missouri Department of Conservation
A ringed crayfish.

Discover nature this week with Missouri's crayfish. While coastal lobsters are famous, their downsized relative, the crayfish (also called crawdad) lives in obscurity right here in Midwestern waters.

Crayfish are our largest crustaceans, easily recognized by their beady eyes, long antennae and those large pincers that sometimes pack a powerful pinch. Crayfish are invertebrates with a hard exterior or shell. And the long pincered crayfish can grow over six inches long. They are also an important food source for more than 200 other animals, including bass and catfish.

In spring, the female crayfish lays a hundred or more eggs, and attaches them to the underside of her tail. The eggs hatch in about a month, and the young continue to travel with mom for another week before moving out on their own. And even though some crayfish live to be six years old, a female will only produce one brood of young in her life.

Crayfish are not fussy eaters; they consume decayed plants and dead fish. Many animals depend on crayfish for food–from raccoons, mink and otters to many species of fish and wading birds. If you’ve ever tried to catch crayfish, you know their defense techniques. Either they make a rapid retreat, or they use their pincers. To move quickly, a crayfish swims backward, flipping its tail up and down.

When you go canoeing or visit a pond, see if you can spot one of our little Midwestern lobsters. And by the way, crayfish are also good to eat.

More information about Missouri’s crawdads can be found online at MissouriConservation.org

Josh Hartwig is the host of Discover Nature and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
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