Golden Crayfish

Faxonius luteus (formerly Orconectes luteus)

golden_crayfish_8-11-15_0.jpg

Photo of a golden crayfish viewed through the surface of creek water.
The golden crayfish can be identified by a combination of markings and its location in the state.
Family

Cambaridae (freshwater crayfish) in the order Decapoda (shrimp, crabs, and lobsters)

Description

The golden crayfish is quite variable in color. It is typically olive green suffused with golden yellow. The antennae and many body parts are trimmed with bright red. A dark band crosses the head just in front of the cervical groove (the groove on the carapace separating the head and thorax), and another crosses the carapace at its junction with the abdomen. The tips of the fingers are red, sometimes bordered by conspicuous black bands. This crayfish is distinguished from most other crayfish within its range by its olive green and red coloration without conspicuous blotches, mottling, or spots.

Color variations generally correspond with locality. Some of these populations may represent different species.

  • Olive specimens trimmed with bright red are common in the Meremec and Niangua drainages.
  • Rich orange-brown specimens trimmed with a subdued orange are common in the Current River.
  • Northeast Missouri specimens typically have a black band behind the reddish tips of the pincers.
Size

Adult length: about 1 to 3½ inches.

golden_crayfish.jpg

Photo of a golden crayfish.
Golden Crayfish
The golden crayfish varies quite a bit in color, and it is a wide-ranging species.

golden_crayfish_pincers_7-16-15.jpg

Photo of a golden crayfish showing pincers.
Golden Crayfish Pincers
The pincers of golden crayfish are moderately heavy and broad.

Golden Crayfish

Golden Crayfish
Golden Crayfish
Lots of golden crayfish, most about 1.5", were scooting around in Clifty Creek, a tributary of the Gasconade River, 3-6-2016.
Habitat and conservation

The golden crayfish lives in streams with permanent flow, in swift water and in riffles over rocky bottoms and in beds of emergent aquatic plants. It is an active, agile species and a strong swimmer and excavates cavities beneath rocks in a gravelly substrate, where it hides when not actively foraging.

Foods

Crayfish are generally omnivores, eating a wide variety of plant and animal materials.

image of Golden Crayfish Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Almost statewide. The golden crayfish is one of the most abundant and widely distributed crayfish in our state, occurring throughout the northern Ozarks, in the Current River and in prairie streams of northeastern Missouri.

Status

One of the most common crayfish species over much of the Ozarks, but it is absent from the Black, Eleven Point, White, and Neosho stream drainages.

Life cycle

Most mating probably occurs in the fall, and females carry eggs between March and May. As with other crayfish, after the eggs hatch, the female continues to carry the young around as they grasp the underside of her abdomen. When they are carrying eggs and young, females of this species apparently hide in deep cavities or crevices, where they are less vulnerable to predation.

Human connections

Crayfish are eaten by many species that humans hunt and fish. Crayfish commonly serve humans as fish bait, and many people eat crayfish, too. Crayfish are fascinating, colorful creatures in their own right, and part of our rich native heritage.

Ecosystem connections

Crayfish are an important link in the food chain between plants and other animals, breaking down plant materials that are resistant to decay. Crayfish in turn are an important food for many other animals. Presence of crayfish in a stream or pond usually indicates good water quality.