Because crawdads are easy to care for, they make good pets for anyone with an interest in them. As with any pet, you should have a clear understanding of the appropriate environment for raising your crawdads.
Crawdads resemble miniature lobsters. In fact, both crawdads and lobsters are crustaceans, animals that share certain characteristics, such as an exoskeleton, jointed appendages and two sets of antennae that help them gather information about their environments. In the wild, crawdads can be found on five continents but none are native to Africa or Antarctica. They live in the rivers and lakes of every state in the United States. Depending on the region, crawdads may be referred to by other names, such as crawfish, crayfish or mudbugs.
Environment for Captive Crawdads
Aquariums make suitable homes for crawdads. For a single crawdad, you could use a 5-gallon aquarium. A 20-gallon aquarium is large enough for multiple crawdads. The aquarium needs to contain fresh water and areas for burrowing, such as PVC pipes buried partly under gravel, rocks or small branches the crawdads can use to climb out of the water. You can use an aquarium filter system, but you don't need one as long as the water is changed weekly. You also don't need a heater on the aquarium since most crawdad species thrive at room temperature.
Because crawdads are excellent climbers, you need to keep a lid on the aquarium so they can't crawl out of the tank. Do not release your crawdad into the wild or allow it to escape because crawdads can harm environments by eating native fish, as well as other crustaceans.
Crawdads are omnivores and scavengers, so you can feed them many different types of food, including:
- Shrimp or algae pellets
- Leafy green vegetables
- Dried seaweed
- Flake food
- Freeze dried brine shrimp, krill, squid, or bloodworms
Add food to the aquarium daily. Remove any food that remains at the next feeding.
Crawdad Life Cycle
In captivity, crawdads can mate any time. When they do, the male deposits sperm on the female. She fertilizes her eggs by moving them through the sperm deposit and then keeps them beneath her tail for around four weeks. During this time, you should place the female in a different aquarium.
After the baby crawdads emerge from the eggs, the female should be taken out of the tank. You can feed the babies lettuce leaves as they begin growing. During their growth period, crawdads will frequently molt, meaning they will shed their exoskeleton for one that is looser, so they can grow into it. When the crawdad molts, it is at its most vulnerable to other crawdads or fish in your tank, so removing it to a separate tank for its safety is a good idea. You can use small 5-gallon aquariums or even plastic shoe boxes with vented lids for this purpose. Each molt takes up to two weeks to complete. Depending on the crawdad species (there are more than 100) and its environment, the young crawdads can reach maturity in as little as seven weeks or as long as five months.
Crawdads are cannibalistic and will eat their young and/or their siblings, so they need plenty of room for growing. Remove large crawdads from the smaller ones as soon as possible.
Since females can reproduce multiple times in a single year, you should separate males and females if you do not want to produce more baby crawdads. You can sex crawdads by looking at their swimmerets -- appendages along the underside of the crawdad's abdomen. Males' swimmerets go past their rear legs while females' swimmerets do not.
Behavior Quirks of the Crawdad
If a crawdad loses a limb, it can grow a replacement. During each successive molt, more of the lost appendage is replaced, however, younger crawdads can achieve this feat more quickly than older ones.
Crawdads use their pincers for defense, so you are likely to get pinched while moving them from one aquarium to another, but the pain is mild and does no lasting damage.
You can keep crawdads in an aquarium with fish but be alert for possible problems. Since they are omnivores, crawdads will eat fish, but they can also be prey for some fish, so their relationship with tank mates can be dangerous. If you're just starting out with crawdads, you're better off keeping them separate from your fish.