Procambarus virginalis Lyko, 2017

Common Name: Marbled crayfish

Synonyms and Other Names:

Marmorkrebs



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Identification: The marbled crayfish is a medium-sized crayfish with a distinct marbled color pattern and small chelae. The marbled coloration from which its name derives is always present and is especially noticeable on the lateral parts of its carapace, which is usually olive or dark brown but can range from tan to reddish to blue (Kawai et al., 2009; Martin et al., 2010a). The chelae are relatively small and are usually less than half  the length of the carapace, with an elongated palm.  A symmetrical, bell-shaped seminal receptacle is located between the bases of the fourth and fifth pairs of walking legs (Souty-Grosset et al., 2006; Kawai et al., 2009).

The marbled crayfish is the only known decapod crustacean that reproduces by parthenogenesis, and all specimens are female as a result. Early attempts to identify this species by morphological characters largely failed because most identification keys for Cambaridae (which it was thought to be based on its general appearance) rely strongly on male characteristics. Subsequent genetic studies confirmed that the marbled crayfish belongs to the genus Procambarus and is most closely related to Procambarus alleni and Procambarus fallax (Scholtz et al., 2003; Braband et al., 2006, Souty-Grosset et al., 2006). Further detailed description of the marbled crayfish is provided by Kawai et al. (2009).


Size: 10-13 cm total length


Native Range: Currently, P. fallax f. virginalis is known only from aquariums and from its introduced range; an indigenous population has never been reported. However, it is reasonable to assume that the marbled crayfish originates from the indigenous range of its progenitor P. fallax, which comprises Florida and southern Georgia (Hobbs, 1989).


This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region but may be elsewhere in the US. See the point map for details.

Table 1. States/provinces with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, 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 virginalis are found here.

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
NY202320231Lower Hudson

Table last updated 2/24/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.


Ecology: P. fallax f. virginalis is unique in that it is the only known decapod crustacean that reproduces through parthenogenesis; all specimens are female and lay unfertilized eggs that develop into genetically identical offspring (Scholtz et al., 2003; Martin et al., 2007; Vogt et al., 2008). No males have been found in laboratory or introduced wild populations (Seitz et al., 2005; Jones et al., 2009). The available data suggest that P. fallax f. virginalis is a fast-growing species that exhibits r-selected life history traits like early maturation, an extended breeding period, and high fecundity. Parthenogenesis allows for a very high reproductive rate, and since females do not need to mate in order to reproduce, one single specimen is sufficient to create a new population.

Since this subspecies arose in the pet trade and does not exist anywhere as a wild native population, very little is known about their ideal habitat. However, it may be worthwhile to consider the habitat requirements of its closest relative, Procambarus fallax, which occurs in streams and rivers but seems to prefer lentic or slow-flowing habitats and is typically found in wet prairies, marshes, and sloughs with organic lightweight soils (Hendrix and Loftus, 2000; Martin et al., 2010a). P. fallax also inhabits temporary wetlands, which feature brief dry-downs during which crayfish retreat into burrows (Martin et al., 2010a). P. fallax is considered a tertiary burrowing species, meaning it lives in open water during most of its life and burrows only under high-stress environmental conditions (Dorn and Violin, 2009). Like most crayfish species, P. fallax f. virginalis is an omnivore that feeds on detritus, algae, plants, and invertebrates.

P. fallax f. virginalis is able to tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, including low oxygenation and temporary exposure to temperatures below 8°C and above 30°C (Seitz et al., 2005; Souty-Grosset et al., 2006; Feria and Faulkes, 2011). There are opposing views as to whether P. fallax f. virginalis is able to invade cold water environments at higher latitudes or altitudes, such as Central or Northern Europe or the Laurentian Great Lakes. While lab results and anecdotal observations suggest that P. fallax f. virginalis is able to tolerate low temperatures (8°C) (Seitz et al., 2005) and is even able to survive direct ice cover (Pfeiffer, 2005; Robbins, 2018), other authors argue that their temperature optimum is considerably higher (18-25°C) than the temperatures in many water bodies at temperate zones, and that they may not have the potential for wide expansion accordingly (Martin et al., 2010a,b). Recent records from Germany indicate that P. fallax f. virginalis is able to form stable, reproducing populations in European temperate zones, but so far this has been documented in lentic habitats only (Chucholl and Pfeiffer, 2010).


Means of Introduction: Procambarus fallax f. virginalis has a high probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: very low).
Potential pathway(s) of introduction: aquarium release.

The primary pathway for P. fallax f. virginalis introductions is the intentional release of aquarium specimens (Souty-Grosset et al., 2006; Chucholl and Pfeiffer, 2010). Its striking coloration, undemanding nature, and unique reproductive behavior makes this species especially appealing to aquarium hobbyists. However, its parthenogenic traits mean that P. fallax f. virginalis can quickly overpopulate an aquarium. To prevent overcrowding, aquarium hobbyists may try to offload excess stock to other hobbyists -- or to the wild (Souty-Grosset et al., 2006). The fact that P. fallax f. virginalis propagates by parthenogenesis makes the risk of release resulting in a reproducing population considerably greater than for sexually reproducing crayfish species.

The popularity of P. fallax f. virginalis as an aquarium pet increases its probability and risk of establishment in the wild. There is significant concern that its spread in the North American pet trade will almost inevitably result in releases from captivity in the United States (Faulkes, 2010). P. fallax f. virginalis is available through online pet and bait shops and is easily shipped across international and domestic borders (Chucholl, 2010; Peay et al., 2010), and personal contacts between crayfish enthusiasts may lead to even more cross-border acquisitions (Faulkes, 2010).


Status: This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region, but is kept in captivity elsewhere in the US.


Great Lakes Impacts:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...

EnvironmentalSocioeconomicBeneficial



Procambarus fallax f. virginalis has a moderate probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: moderate).

Marbled crayfish are reported to tolerate a broad range of environmental conditions, including various pH and oxygen levels, and hobbyists report that they can thrive in unfiltered water “straight from the tap” (Robbins, 2018). Their ability to overwinter in the Great Lakes region is unknown, as they have been reported to survive ice cover in laboratory experiments (Souty-Grosset et al., 2006; Feria and Faulkes, 2011) but do best at temperatures between 18-25°C. As omnivores, this species can utilize a diverse range of food sources, and native predators are unlikely to be able to control their rapidly-reproducing populations. Because of their asexual reproduction and high fecundity, once control measures are stopped, the population is likely to return to its former level (Gherardi et al., 2011).

 Procambarus fallax f. virginalis has the potential for high environmental impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

This species’ fast growth rate and r-selected life history traits may allow it to outcompete native species (Jones et al., 2009; Chucholl and Pfeiffer, 2010). This species has been documented to carry rickettsiosis, coccidiosis, and Psorospermium sp., and may be a carrier of the crayfish plague (Souty-Grosset et al., 2006). Closely-related species such as P. clarkii degrade wetlands and increase water turbidity, and while this behavior has not been specifically documented in marbled crayfish, high densities of this species may have significant impacts on ecosystem function and integrity (Chucholl, 2010).

Procambarus fallax f. virginalis has the potential for moderate socio-economic impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

The marbled crayfish is a burrowing species, and have been reported to damage irrigation systems and dams (Souty-Grosset et al., 2006), particularly in rice paddies, where they may also feed on and injure young plants (Jones et al., 2009; Kawai et al., 2009; Heimer, 2010): similar effects may be possible in wild rice paddies around the Great Lakes. Fishermen in Madagascar also report severe negative impacts on their fishing grounds in the presence of marbled crayfish, but currently all evidence is anecdotal (Jones et al., 2009; Heimer, 2010).

Procambarus fallax f. virginalis has the potential for high beneficial impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

The marbled crayfish remains a popular pet species in Europe and North America (Chucholl, 2010; Faulkes, 2010), and is also used as fishing bait. The marbled crayfish is a useful laboratory model organism for developmental physiology, epigenetics, and toxicology. Its large numbers of genetically identical offspring, rapid reproductive rate, and simple care requirements make it an ideal species for lab research (Vogt, 2008; 2010). Recent publications document its increasing use as model organism and for cancer research (Jirikowski et al., 2010; Rubach et al., 2011).


Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes region)
P. fallax f. virginalis is a prohibited species in Missouri (USA). Under the name Procambarus virginalis, this species is prohibited in Ontario.

Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Biological

No specific data exists on P. fallax f. virginalis control, but native predatory fish may be worth considering. Eels in particular are good candidates to control unwanted crayfish populations and have been shown to be effective in combination with other control methods like intensive trapping (Aquiloni et al., 2010).

Physical

P. fallax is known to be susceptible to drought (Dorn and Trexler, 2007). Provided that P. fallax f. virginalis shares this characteristic, draining habitats for longer periods might reduce confined populations. Mechanical removal through trapping, electrofishing, or other methods can only remove a fraction of the population and requires significant effort to be effective. Once the control measures have ceased, the population will return to its former level (Gherardi et al., 2011).

Chemical

The application of biocides such as pyrethroid insecticides at the very early stages of invasions or in confined habitats may result in complete eradication (Sandodden and Johnsen, 2010). At a larger scale, however, the use of biocides is both expensive and ineffective because of adverse impacts on non-target organisms (Anastacio et al., 1995) and the tendency of crayfish to escape lethal doses by retreating into burrows or by climbing out of the water.


Remarks: Significant media coverage in February 2018 around the globe has led to increased public awareness of this species.


References (click for full reference list)


Author: Lower, E.


Contributing Agencies:
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Revision Date: 10/22/2021


Citation for this information:
Lower, E., 2024, Procambarus virginalis Lyko, 2017: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatlakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=3656&Potential=Y&Type=2&HUCNumber=DGreatLakes, Revision Date: 10/22/2021, Access Date: 2/24/2024

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.