The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Procambarus clarkii
Procambarus clarkii
(Red Swamp Crayfish)
Native Transplant
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Procambarus clarkii (Girard, 1852)

Common name: Red Swamp Crayfish

Synonyms and Other Names: Red swamp crayfish/crawfish, Louisiana crayfish/crawfish, Cambarus clarkii Girard, 1852

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: The red swamp crayfish is typically dark red, with elongate claws (chelae) and head, a triangular rostrum tapering anteriorly without a central keel, reduced or absent spines on the side of the shell (carapace) between the head and thorax, and a linear to obliterate dorsal surface between the 2 carapace plates (areola), which converge (Boets et al. 2009, GISD 2011, NatureServe 2011). The first walking leg (cheliped) bears bright red rows of bumps (tubercles) on its side (mesial) margin and palm.

In reproductively mature males, hooks are present on the third segment (from the base; the ischia) of the third and fourth pairs of walking legs, and the first swimmeret (pleopod) of ends in four projections (terminal elements), with the most anterior terminal end (cephalic process) of this sperm transfer structure rounded with a sharp angle on the outer (caudodistal) margin, which lacks “hairs” (setae) below its tip. Setae on the anterior surface of the pleopod, closest to the terminal elements, have strong angular shoulders. The right pleopod is wrapped around the side, such that it appears reduced or absent, and possesses a spur on the inner margin on its fifth joint (carpopodite) (WDFW 2003). Strong spines project from the inner face of the sixth joint (propodite); “knots” are present on the dorsal face or this joint (Boets et al. 2009).

Juveniles are not red and are difficult to distinguish from other Procambarus species (Boets et al. 2009).

Size: Adults range in length from 5.5 to 12 centimeters (or 2.2 to 4.7 inches) and may attain weights in excess of 50 grams in 3 to 5 months (GIS 2011, Hentonnen and Huner 1999).

Native Range: Gulf coastal plain from the Florida panhandle to Mexico; southern Mississippi River drainage to Illinois (Hobbs 1989, Taylor et al. 2007).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Procambarus clarkii are found here.

StateYear of earliest observationYear of last observationTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
Alaska200420041Upper Kenai Peninsula
Arizona198120103Lower Colorado; Lower Colorado Region; Upper San Pedro
California1924201732Aliso-San Onofre; California; California Region; Central California Coastal; Clear Creek-Sacramento River; Crowley Lake; Fresno River; Imperial Reservoir; Los Angeles; Lower American; Lower Colorado; Lower Sacramento; Mad-Redwood; Middle Kern-Upper Tehachapi-Grapevine; Mojave; Owens Lake; Russian; San Diego; San Francisco Bay; San Gabriel; San Joaquin; San Luis Rey-Escondido; Santa Ana; Santa Ana; Santa Barbara Coastal; Santa Monica Bay; Southern California Coastal; Suisun Bay; Tulare-Buena Vista Lakes; Upper Coon-Upper Auburn; Upper Mokelumne; Upper Tuolumne
Georgia198920112Upper Flint; Upper Oconee
Hawaii192320026Hawaii; Hawaii Region; Kauai; Maui; Molokai; Oahu
Idaho197519892Lower Boise; Pacific Northwest Region
Illinois200420173Chicago; Des Plaines; Upper Fox
Indiana198919892Highland-Pigeon; Ohio Region
Maine198020032Lower Kennebec; New England Region
Maryland1989201220Cacapon-Town; Chester-Sassafras; Chincoteague; Choptank; Conococheague-Opequon; Gunpowder-Patapsco; Lower Potomac; Lower Susquehanna; Mid Atlantic Region; Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan; Middle Potomac-Catoctin; Monocacy; Nanticoke; North Branch Potomac; Patuxent; Pokomoke-Western Lower Delmarva; Severn; Tangier; Upper Chesapeake Bay; Youghiogheny
Michigan201320174Black-Macatawa; Detroit; Southeastern Lake Michigan; St. Joseph
Minnesota201620161Eastern Wild Rice
Mississippi201520152Noxubee; Tibbee
Missouri200920091Beaver Reservoir
Nebraska201620161Lewis and Clark Lake
Nevada194220163Lake Mead; Las Vegas Wash; Upper Amargosa
New Jersey201620161Middle Delaware-Musconetcong
New Mexico19891989*
New York200220021Northern Long Island
North Carolina1989201629Albemarle; Cape Fear; Chowan; Coastal Carolina; Fishing; Haw; Lower Catawba; Lower Pee Dee; Lower Pee Dee; Lower Roanoke; Lower Tar; Lower Yadkin; Meherrin; Middle Neuse; Neuse; Northeast Cape Fear; Pamlico; Rocky; Upper Broad; Upper Cape Fear; Upper Catawba; Upper French Broad; Upper Neuse; Upper Pee Dee; Upper Pee Dee; Upper Tar; Upper Yadkin; Waccamaw; White Oak River
Ohio1967201710Cedar-Portage; Cuyahoga; Lake Erie; Licking; Lower Scioto; Mahoning; Middle Ohio-Laughery; Sandusky; Tuscarawas; Upper Scioto
Oklahoma198919891Arkansas-White-Red Region
Oregon198920168Coos; Coquille; Middle Columbia-Lake Wallula; Pacific Northwest Region; Tualatin; Umpqua; Upper Deschutes; Upper Willamette
South Carolina198919891South Atlantic-Gulf Region
Utah197819891Rush-Tooele Valleys
Virginia199919991Lower Chesapeake
Washington200020094Lake Washington; Lower Skagit; Puget Sound; Puyallup
Wisconsin200920092Milwaukee; Pike-Root

Table last updated 5/25/2018

† Populations may not be currently present.

* HUCs are not listed for states where the observation(s) cannot be approximated to a HUC (e.g. state centroids or Canadian provinces).

Ecology: This species lives in a variety of freshwater habitats, including rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, canals, seasonally flooded swamps and marshes, and ditches with mud or sand bottoms and plenty of organic debris (Huner and Barr 1991). Procambarus clarkii also frequently colonizes rice fields, irrigation channels, and reservoirs (Correia and Ferreira 1995, Gherardi et al. 1999). It exhibits considerable ecological plasticity and is tolerant of a range of salinities up to 35ppt (Bissattini et al. 2015), (2-3 ppt for reproduction), pH (5.8-10), oxygen levels (>3 ppm), temperatures (as long as water in burrows neither freezes nor exceeds 95°C), and pollution levels (Huner and Barr 1991). Although this species is known to have a preference for habitats with water temperature from 21 to 30 °C,  (Peruzza et al. 2015) demonstrated that the red swamp crayfish could adapt to atypical thermal habitat, characterized by an annual mean water temperature values of 13 °C. Studies of the red swamp crayfish invasion in Europe suggest that it tends to prefer areas of lower flow velocity and low elevation; in central and southern Europe, it has established in warm, shallow natural and agricultural wetlands while in northern Europe, it can be found in small permanent ponds free of fish predation (Cruz and Rebelo 2007, Henttonen and Huner 1999).

The red swamp crayfish is a physical ecosystem engineer, primarily constructing simple, two-crayfish burrows consisting of a single opening, which may be covered with a mud plug or chimney to reduce evaporative loss further from the water’s edge, and a tunnel widening to an enlarged terminal chamber (Correia and Ferreira 1995, Huner and Barr 1991, Jaspers and Avault 1969). In periods of drought or elevated temperatures, these burrows can extend 40-90 cm down to water table (Ingle 1997). Burrow density is typically greatest in areas with fine sediments and lowest in areas of sand, gravel, or cobble (Barbaresi et al. 2004). Where present, Myriophyllum sp., fallen logs, and other vegetation may encourage greater burrow density (Correia and Ferreira 1995). Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) has also provided habitat for this crayfish in other introduced populations (Smart et al. 2002).

Like most crayfish, the red swamp crayfish is an opportunistic omnivore, consuming plant material, animals, detritus, and sediment (Alcorlo et al. 2004; Anastácio et al. 2005; Correia 2003; Gherardi and Barbaresi 2007, 2008; Gutiérrez-Yurrita et al. 1998; Hobbs 1993; Ilheu and Bernardo 1993; Pérez-Bote 2004; Smart et al. 2002). In terms of feeding preference, a few trends have emerged from studies of native and introduced populations. Plants and/or detritus tend to be consumed in greatest frequency and volume, with plant consumption highest in summer and detritus feeding intense year round (Correia 2003, Gherardi and Barbaresi 2008). It appears that crayfish may exhibit selectivity for particular plants but not among animal prey (Gherardi and Barbaresi 2007). The animal constituents of the red swamp crayfish diet tend to be dominated by insects (particularly chironomids), other crayfish, mollusks (snails), and fish (Ilheu and Bernardo 1993, Pérez-Bote 2004). Juveniles consume more animals than adults, which exhibit an ontogenic shift in diet to plants and detritus, but cannibalism is most apparent in adults and preadults (Correia 2003, Pérez-Bote 2004). Fish is also an important staple of the adult winter diet, and males may eat fish in a higher proportion than do females. This may be attributed to large claw size in some males and potentially also due to higher male mobility during the mating season (Ilheu and Bernardo 1993, Pérez-Bote 2004). However, the nutritional benefit of carnivory may be outweighed by the cost of active predation, leading to increased herbivory or detritivory in the field (Ilheu and Bernardo 1993). Overall consumption is highest in the fall and winter (Pérez-Bote 2004).

The life cycle of the red swamp crayfish is relatively short, with an onset of sexual maturity occurring in as few as two months and a total generation time of four and a half months (Huner and Barr 1991). Breeding typically taking place in the fall, though in warmer, wetter regions, there may be a second reproductive period in the spring. This species exhibits high fecundity: a 10 cm female can produce as many as 500 eggs, while a smaller female produces around 100 eggs (GISD 2011, Huner and Barr 1991). Egg production make take as short a period as six weeks, followed by a three-week period of incubation and maternal attachment and an additional eight weeks until egg maturation (GISD 2011). Procambarus clarkii females incubating eggs or carrying young may be found year-round, which contributes greatly to the success and abundance of this species, but optimal temperatures are 21-27°C; growth is inhibited below 12°C (Ackefors 1999, GISD 2011). Recently hatched crayfish remain in the burrow with their mother as long as eight weeks and must molt twice before being self-sufficient (Hunter and Barr 1991). Due to the cannibalistic nature of conspecifics in communal burrows, adult molting often occurs in the open, even in the presence of predatory fish (Hartman and O’Neill 1999). The adult red swamp crayfish exhibits cyclic dimorphism, alternating between sexually active and inactive periods, and in the wild typically does not live longer than two to five years (GISD 2011, Huner and Barr 1991, Smart et al. 2002).

The red swamp crayfish exhibits two types of behaviors—one a wandering phase which involves short peaks of high speed of movement, the other an immobile stage during which it hides in its burrow by day and only comes out at dusk to forage. Breeding male crayfish in the wandering phase may travel as far as 17 km from their site of origin within four days (GISD 2011). Nocturnal activity in the stationary phase does not appear to be driven by predatory avoidance (many of red swamp crayfish predators are also nocturnal) or prey capture (mostly herbivorous; Gherardi et al. 2000).

Means of Introduction: Nonnative populations in the United States are likely to have resulted as a release from aquaculture or from the aquarium trade (Simon and Thoma 2006, Thoma and Jezerinac 2000; Kilian et al. 2012). This species’ striking red color has lead to commercial advertisement as freshwater “lobster” for aquariums and may have sped up the species’ advance on the west branch of the Grand Calumet River in Indiana and Illinois (Simon et al. 2005).

The red swamp crayfish is readily available though the biological supply trade and may be released following classroom or laboratory use (Larson and Olden 2008; Kilian et al. 2012). It is also popular among anglers as bait for largemouth bass (WDFW 2003). Intended disposal via the sanitary system (being flushed down toilets) is likely to be ineffective, as many P. clarkii has been seen in urban zones around waste water treatment areas, having apparently survived treatment (Indiana Biological Survey 2008).

The Sandusky Bay, OH populations likely stem from an attempted introduction to see if they could get a harvestable population established for human consumption (R. Thoma, Midwest Biodiversity Institute, pers. comm.). This species is commercially cultured in the southern U.S., particularly in Louisiana, where industry profits exceed $150 million annually and the fishery is an integral part of the state’s culture and economy (McAlain and Romaire 2011). Alternately, there is a remote chance these red swamp crayfish were introduced from infested Ohio State Fish Hatcheries during a fish stocking event (R. Thoma, Midwest Biodiversity Institute, pers. comm.).

Status: Established in coastal waters of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan.

Remarks: Michigan Department of Natural Resources discovered in July 2015 that anglers are purchasing red swamp crayfish from food markets and using them as live bait. Several dead, red swamp crayfish were found near a popular fishing site in Lake Macatawa in Ottawa County, Michigan. To respond to this discovery, Michigan DNR will set traps and seines in Lake Macatawa. 

A population of crayfish originally identified as Procambarus clarkii from the Seneca system, New York was later verifed as Procambarus acutus (11/28/2017).

References: (click for full references)

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Author: Nagy, R., A. Fusaro, and W. Conard

Revision Date: 4/4/2018

Citation Information:
Nagy, R., A. Fusaro, and W. Conard, 2018, Procambarus clarkii (Girard, 1852): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=217, Revision Date: 4/4/2018, Access Date: 5/26/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [5/26/2018].

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