Crayfish found here in Northwest Indiana

Crayfish photo by Evan Cox
Crayfish photo by Evan Cox

By Evan Cox

Crayfish are the freshwater cousins of lobsters that live right here in Newton County.

Commonly fans of rocky stream bottoms, many live in our sandy ditches or ponds, munching on the vegetation and whatever else they can scavenge.
Crayfish are sometimes called mudbugs, referring to a common habitat of theirs. We have several different varieties in our sandy soils. If you take a short trip to a slough or the prairie at Kankakee Sands, look for evidence of the Painted Hand mudbug, the Digger, Prairie, or Calico Crayfishes. All are around 3-4 inches from head to tail as adults but they rarely leave their burrows unless to hunt.
A major species in the Great Lakes region is the northern clearwater crayfish (Orconectes propinquus). It will be found where the water is low in silt so these visual hunters can see their next meal. For this reason, expect to find them in rocky streams with stones up to a foot across, one of their favorite hiding spots.
If reading this makes you hungry, I’ve got info on the right species. The red swamp crayfish, (Procambarus clarkii) is the well-known behemoth from down south now famous worldwide. Many have escaped the cooking pot however and can be found as far as Africa and Northern Europe.
What they consume is an open buffet ranging from fresh catches to decaying plant matter. They catch their prey with raw speed and grip from their powerful pincers. While they can be capable of grabbing prey as agile as minnows, a nip from one wouldn’t break our skin so consider them a friend.
Ranging from 2 to 5 inches as adults, red swamp crayfish can be found in many ponds, streams, and seasonal wetlands in prairies. During early summer days they can be seen in shallow pools eating vegetation or other small invertebrates.
During the cooler months and at night they return to their burrows made in the soft mud. The holes they leave behind are what make them so hard to find, but these holes later become habitat for other parts of the food web and promote water infiltration. That service, in addition to being the prey of many awesome species including many predatory fish, otters, and great blue heron, make them a crucial element of our ecosystems.
Due to the very selective habitats they occupy, many species of crayfish are vulnerable to low populations. Their tendency to be well burrowed in soil or at the bottom of lakes makes them harder to study, but we know their many benefits and know they are the coolest crustaceans that we have right here around us.

Workday planned at Kankakee Sands
Saturday, September 12, 2015, Native Plant Seed Harvest at The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands Nursery, Newton County, Indiana
9 a.m. to noon, Central Time

With over 150 native plants to collect seed from, we could use your help! During this workday, we will be collecting the seed from at least 5 different flower and grass species for use in our upcoming restoration plantings. And while we are collecting, there’s no telling what we will see…flowers, butterflies, birds. Come learn several of our native plants and all about the prairie ecosystem. After harvesting the seeds, we will transport them to our seed barn facility for drying and planting this winter. The drive to the seed barn will be an opportunity to view much of the 8,000 acres of Kankakee Sands.  The workday is very family friendly and appropriate for all ages and abilities.

No experience necessary.  Fleece and wool clothing is not recommended as it collects seeds. Feel free to bring your lunch and have a picnic on the prairie or hike a trail at Kankakee Sands after the workday.  R. S.V.P.’s appreciated. Contact Alyssa Nyberg by email at anyberg@tnc.org or call (219) 866-1706 for more information and to R.S.V.P.  We will begin the morning at the Kankakee Sands Native Plant nursery located at 1492 W 250 N, Morocco, IN, 47963.

 

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Evan Cox is a seasonal Restoration Assistant at Kankakee Sands this year. Coming from the Bay State, he has graduated from University of Massachusetts with a degree in Environmental Design focusing on restoration of natural water systems. Working in and exploring the wet prairies at the preserve is what he does every day, and he loves it.

The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands of Indiana and Illinois is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.

 


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