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Care Guide: Crayfish

Living Care Information

Procambarus clarkii
commonly known as crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs

Quick Start Information

About the Organism

  • Crayfish are freshwater relatives of lobsters and crabs.
  • Astacology is the study of crayfish.
  • The crayfish is the official state crustacean of Louisiana.
  • Crayfish can live for several years and molt 1 to 2 times per year.
  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Malacostraca
  • Order: Decapoda
  • Family: Cambaridae
  • Genus*: Procambarus
  • Species*: clarkii (acutus for feeders)

*The genus and species may vary depending on availability and season.


We ship feeder crayfish in a bag with water. Other crayfish are shipped in a box with damp plant material. Transfer crayfish from their shipping containers into holding pails or habitats as soon as possible. The water in all holding pails and habitats must be dechlorinated and at room temperature. Acclimate as follows.

For feeder crayfish:

  1. Open the top of the bag and roll the top down 2 or 3 times to make a flotation collar. Float the bag in the holding pail or habitat.
  2. After 20 to 30 minutes, discard about 1/4 of the water from the bag and replace it with conditioned water from the holding tank or habitat.
  3. Wait 15 minutes and then repeat step 2.
  4. After another 15 minutes, position a net over an empty cup or bucket (not the holding pail or habitat) and gently pour the crayfish from the bag into the net. Transfer the netted crayfish to the holding pail or habitat and discard the shipping water and shipping bag. Your crayfish are now acclimated to their new environment.

For crayfish shipped with damp plant material:

  1. Mist the crayfish and the interior of the shipping box with room-temperature dechlorinated water.
  2. Close the box lid and wait 15 to 20 minutes or until everything is at room temperature.
  3. Once you are confident the crayfish are at the same temperature as the water in the holding pails or habitats, you can transfer them.


Crayfish require an aquatic habitat. You should have holding tanks and habitats prepared before receiving your shipment. Use conditioned tap water, spring water, or well water. The water should cover the back of the animal, and needs to be no more than 15 cm (6") deep. If kept in deep water, crayfish can deplete the oxygen near the bottom. Since they cannot easily swim to the surface for air, they may suffocate.

If you want to keep them in deep water, an air stone, filter, or power head (pump) will circulate the water and keep it oxygenated; however, crayfish will climb an airline or power cord and escape unless the tank has a cover. Crayfish may be kept in aquaria, buckets, or other glass or plastic containers. The number that can be kept depends primarily on the size of the crayfish and the length of time you wish to keep them.

For short-term storage, 12 to 18 crayfish can be held in a 20-gallon (12 × 24" bottom area) aquarium or a container of similar size. For long-term maintenance, up to 2 medium or large crayfish can be kept per square foot if you provide hiding places.

Rocks can be used for this, or lengths of plastic pipe. The size depends on the size of the crayfish. Cut the pieces lengthwise, making 2 hiding places per length of pipe. Provide more hiding places than the number of crayfish. Observe the crayfish for a few days. If you see signs of aggression, you may have to move some crayfish to additional habitats to reduce conflicts.


Crayfish are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods, including our Crayfish and Lobster Food. Other options include fish foods, bits of frozen fish, shrimp, crab, waterlogged oak leaves, small minnows, and bits of earthworm. Water plants provide hiding places as well as food.

Maintaining and culturing

Each week draw off and discard about 1/4 of the water in the tank and replace it with fresh water that has been treated with water conditioner. If the water becomes cloudy, do the partial water change more often and cut down on feeding. Keep the temperature stable at 18 to 25°C (64 to 77°F) and avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Aquatic snails can help keep the tank clean.


Carolina provides living organisms for educational purposes only. As a general policy, we do not advocate the release of organisms into the environment. In some states, it is illegal to release organisms, even indigenous species, without a permit. The intention of these laws is to protect native wildlife and the environment.

We suggest that organisms be:

  • Maintained in the classroom.
  • Donated to another classroom or science department.
  • With parental permission, adopted or taken home by students.
  • Donated to a nature center or zoo.
  • Disposed of humanely, as a last resort.

Crayfish can be chilled to immobility and then frozen. After being frozen for a few days, they can be thawed, sealed in plastic bags, and disposed of.


No biosafety information applies for this organism.


No video or video playlist applies for this organism.


Our crayfish stay hidden and never come out to eat. What is wrong?

Crayfish are nocturnal. Usually the greatest periods of activity occur shortly before dawn and just after dusk. Water temperature also plays a role in activity, which decreases at temperature extremes.

Can I refrigerate the crayfish?

Although crayfish do better at the lower end of room temperature, we do not recommend refrigeration unless you can regulate the temperature to remain between 15 to 20° C (59 to 68°F).

How can I keep my crayfish healthy?

Acclimate your crayfish properly and maintain the aquarium. Remove about 1/4 of the aquarium water weekly and replace it with water that has been aged and treated with water conditioner. Never replace more than 1/4 of the water at a time. Also, keep aquarium conditions stable.

All the crayfish died soon after we put them in the aquaria. What went wrong?

If you acclimated them and conditioned the water, your tap water may contain metal ions that are toxic to crayfish, especially if the water pipes at your school are less than 3 years old or if there have been recent major repairs to the plumbing. You may have to use water from another source, such as bottled water. Or the crayfish may have been overstressed during shipping.

Need help?

We want you to have a good experience. Orders and replacements: 800.334.5551, then select Customer Service. Technical support and questions: caresheets@carolina.com