Big River crawdads

Posted by Phil Lilley on June 22nd, 2017
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I mentioned in the post I just finished about looking for crayfish with the Nature Conservancy lady, and not finding any.  But a couple weeks ago, Mitch Fields and I were on a float trip on the upper river, and we stopped and spent a bit of time in one little spot hunting crawdads, and found four different species in an area the size of the average living room.  Which was pretty cool.  And also brings up a bit of a mystery.

The most common crayfish species in the Missouri Ozarks is probably the golden crayfish.  This is the one you usually see with the light olive to yellowish body with very dark brown bands across it.  Goldens have big, powerful pincers and a very hard shell.  Bass eat them like candy, but in reality they don’t like them as well as another common species on Big River.  And that one is a mystery species.  It’s olive gray to grayish brown in color, with indistinct darker bands running along the sides of the middle section of the body, and curving upwards at the rear of this middle section.  It has a relatively thin shell, and small (though fairly strong) pincers.  Bass REALLY like these.  So what species is it?  I don’t know.  In body and pincer shape it looks like a papershell crayfish, though the photos of the papershell in the “Crayfish of Missouri” book don’t have the slightly darker banding in the right place…but the papershell is not known to exist south of the Missouri River.  As close as I can come is the spothanded crayfish.  Though none of the photos of spothanded look a lot like it.  Some show a crayfish with pincers far too heavy and powerful looking.  But one photo shows one that has the right body shape and pincer size, though the markings aren’t right.  And the book notes that spothanded crayfish have the widest variation in appearance of any Missouri species, and may in fact be several different species–the biologists don’t have everything figured out yet, apparently.

So in that one spot on Big River, Mitch and I found that species, which I’ll tentatively call the spothanded crayfish.  We caught the species that is native ONLY to Big River (in all the world, apparently), the belted crayfish.  They look like goldens with the dark bands across their bodies, though the background color is a darker, more brownish olive.  And the dark band that in goldens is only at the rear of the head portion, spans both the rear the head and the front of the middle in belteds.  We found what I thought were goldens, but in looking at the book again, I think they may have been the saddlebacked crayfish, which is native only to the Meramec river system.  And finally, the woodland crayfish, which in all the world is native only to the upper Black River, Courtois, Huzzah, and Big River and the tributaries running into them.

Now Mitch and company are going to have to figure out how to color their Hi Def Craws to match all these species!

https://www.tacklehd.com/

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