Red Swamp Crawfish

Procambarus clarkii


Photo of a red swamp crawfish or crayfish.
In Missouri, the red swamp crawfish lives in the Bootheel, usually in lowland streams and ditches.
Chris Lukhaup
Other Common Name
Red Swamp Crayfish

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


Adults red swamp crawfish are dark red (nearly black on the carapace) and have a wedge-shaped black stripe on the abdomen. Juveniles are a uniform gray, sometimes overlain by dark wavy lines. The pincers are narrow and long. The carapace is not separated at the middle by a space (areola). The carapace is conspicuously granular (roughened) in adults. The rostrum has lateral spines or notches near its tip. This crayfish most closely resembles the White River crayfish, which differs most obviously in having an areola. Young of the White River crayfish usually have spots on the carapace.


Adult length: about 2¼ to 4¾ inches.


red swamp crayfish
Red Swamp Crayfish
A red swamp crayfish is wary of visitors to his mud hole in the marsh.
Habitat and conservation

The red swamp crawfish is the most abundant large crayfish in many swamps, sloughs, and sluggish ditches of the Bootheel lowlands. It prefers substrates of mud or sand, often where there is plenty of organic debris such as logs, sticks, or water-soaked tree leaves. It generally avoids streams and ditches with strong flow, where it is replaced by the White River crayfish. The red swamp crayfish burrows during periods of drought or cold.


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

Red Swamp Crayfish Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Occurs widely in the Lowland Faunal Region of southeastern Missouri — the Bootheel.


This widely distributed species occurs along the Gulf Coastal Plain from the Florida panhandle west to northeastern Mexico and northward along the Mississippi River to the Missouri Bootheel and nearby sections of Illinois. It has been introduced elsewhere in the country and internationally, where it sometimes becomes a pest.

Life cycle

In Missouri, reproduction probably occurs primarily in burrows during fall and early winter. Most breeding information about this species is from populations in the state of Louisiana, where it is grown as an aquacultural crop.

Human connections

The most important crayfish, economically, on the continent, with a total harvest from wild and aquacultural sources of more than 50,000 metric tons annually, nearly all from the state of Louisiana. Widely introduced elsewhere, including other countries, it can be a serious invasive pest.

Ecosystem connections

Although, in Missouri, it has potential as an aquacultural crop in the Bootheel, this species is tremendously valuable, ecologically, for its role as a food for various animals living in wetland areas. Many species that prey on it have economic value for humans.