Volume 3 • Issue 12 • December 2009

The Crayfish of Oklahoma

Filling the Gaps

Crayfish 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.

Not just for bait anymore... Photo provided by wildlifedepartment.com.
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.

Written by Buck Ray. Buck is an environmental biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grant Program. The State Wildlife Grant Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species. For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Spavinaw Hills Wildlife Management Area

Get Close to Nature

The Spavinaw Hills Wildlife Management Area lies in the heart of the Oklahoma Ozarks within in the Spavinaw Creek watershed and immediately south of Spavinaw and Eucha Lakes.  The wildlife management area is comprised of nearly 14,000 acres of forested limestone plateau that has been cut and dissected by at least eight intermittent streams to create a series of valleys or hollows.  Despite the number of hollows and the proximity of two reservoirs, there is very little surface water on Spavinaw Hills WMA.  Porous limestone (also known as karst) underlies the area and most of the area’s rainfall percolates into the soil or into the limestone gravel on the floor of each hollow.  The hollows contain a handful of springs and seeps, but no stretches of perennial streams.  There are, however, small man-made pools on the area that provide water for birds and large mammals.  These same pools are also magnets for the area’s amphibian population and support abundant populations of gray treefrogs, spring peepers (a small forest-dwelling frog), pickerel frogs, green frogs, central newts and spotted salamanders.

The American redstart can be seen during the mating season at Spavinaw Hills WMA. Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Moist, deciduous forests dominate the hollows or valleys. The most abundant trees include white oak, black gum, northern red oak, and mockernut hickory, which tower above an understory of witch-hazel, dogwood, hawthorn and deciduous holly. In these forests, wildlife watchers can find eastern chipmunk, northern parula, acadian flycatcher, Kentucky warbler, worm-eating warbler and Louisiana waterthrush. Although they are rarely seen, Spavinaw Hills WMA supports an abundant population of southern flying squirrels and a diverse population of at least six species of bats. Spavinaw Hills also is one of only a few places where the American redstart can be found during the nesting season. A few openings are maintained in the hollows to provide forage for whitetail deer and a small reintroduced population of American elk that are frequently seen from the area’s roads. These openings also attract ruby-throated hummingbirds, northern cardinals and American goldfinches.

Forests also dominate the drier, rockier ridges between the hollows, but these are forests comprised by black hickory, post oak and shortleaf pine with an understory of blueberries, sumac and wildflowers.  Wildlife in this habitat includes the yellow-throated warbler, summer tanager, indigo bunting, tufted titmouse, eastern wood pewee, whitetail deer and gray fox.   The southwest boundary fence takes in a remnant patch of tallgrass prairie called the Cochran Prairie, and an adjacent stand of oak savannah.  In forest openings and on the prairie, occur species such as the great spangled fritillary (a large brightly colored butterfly), groundhog (aka woodchuck), yellow-breasted chat and eastern towhee.

For those hunters out there, many game species are present on the WMA. Obviously whitetail deer and squirrel can be found, along with quail, turkey, rabbit, coyote, bobcat and multiple species of waterfowl are also present. Look to your Hunting Guide for season dates and regulations.

Fishing is available at both Spavinaw and Eucha lakes. These are both owned by the City of Tulsa and within one mile of the WMA boundary. Both lakes are known for outstanding bluegill, largemouth bass and catfish. Spavinaw Creek also has bass and sunfish.

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.


Christmas Bird Counts Might be Addictive!

Are you one of over 909,000 Oklahoman's that enjoy feeding the birds?  Over the years, you have probably become comfortable identifying birds using your feeders.  Would you like to take your backyard bird identification skills and expand your knowledge while at the same time contributing to one of the largest scientific databases concerning bird populations?  This December consider participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count. Christmas Bird Counts provides an excellent chance to join more experienced bird watchers and learn more about wintering birds.  Beginning bird watchers are especially welcomed and you will discover that many, many bird watchers including some prominent ornithologists (scientist who studies birds) were launched into a life long interest by participating in a Christmas Bird Count.

The count takes place within “Count Circles” which focus on specific geographic areas.  Each circle is led by a Count Compiler and each group includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.  In addition, if your home is located within the boundaries of a Count Circle, then you can stay at home and report the birds that visit your feeders or you can join a group of birdwatchers in the field.

To locate and contact your local Count Compiler you can visit the Oklahoma Audubon Council's website. You can learn more about the Christmas Bird Count database which provides data from over 100 years of surveys by clicking here.

*Based on the “2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” conducted by the US Department of the Interior.

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.