Crayfish of Oklahoma


crayfishCrayfish are commonly used as bait and food or as something fun for the kids to play with, but crayfish also are important components of the food webs in aquatic ecosystems such as streams and ponds where they often occur. Among freshwater species, crayfish, along with mussels, are quickly becoming come of the most imperiled species in the country. Almost 50% of U.S. species of crayfish are already listed or in need of conservation recognition. Like most species, the alteration and/or destruction of habitat is greatly impacting their numbers. Additionally, crayfish are under siege from the introduction of new crayfish species, which are usually distributed into waterways by bait fishermen. Crayfish show a high level of endemism (being found only on one location) and specific species are often found only in one state. Even in the face of the geographic restriction, crayfish have a relatively low extinction rate and therefore are a species that should respond positively to effective protective management.

Good data on the distribution and population size of Oklahoma crayfish has been sparse. However, a recent survey of the crayfish fauna has shown that the fauna is not completely known. Since 1989, their have been four new records added that bring the total number of crayfish species in Oklahoma to 28. Additionally, evaluation of museum species is contributing recent records for several rare crayfish, including most of the species living outside of caves that are identified as Oklahoma Wildlife Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Identification of these specimens is very cost effective compared to additional field surveys and has yielded new records for species such as the Menae crayfish, the midget crayfish, the Ouachita mountain crayfish and the southwestern creek crayfish. There has been a gap in the crayfish data where current information such as this can now be used for conservation planning allowing state rankings to be updated and proper management practices to be put into place.