Rare Crayfish, Unique to Panhandle, Threatened by Wetland Loss
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.–(ENEWSPF)–January 6, 2014. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the wingtail crayfish, a tiny resident of the Panhandle. The wingtail crayfish is a 2-inch, tan crustacean with red spots that is found in Gulf County and nowhere else on Earth. It lives in seasonally flooded freshwater areas in the flatwoods west and south of Wewahitchka.
“This tiny crayfish needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to fight off the ongoing destruction of its wetland home,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist at the Center. “Protecting habitat for the crayfish will also protect water quality for people, because these wetlands are so important in flood prevention and water purification.”
The wingtail crayfish is known from only 11 sites, seven of which are close to each other, making it vulnerable to extinction. It faces many threats, including urbanization, wetland loss, water pollution, groundwater decline, conversion of flatwoods to pine plantations, and global climate change.
“When it’s dry on the surface, the crayfish burrows down to the water table, but dropping groundwater levels, drought and saltwater intrusion could put the wet areas it needs to survive out of reach,” said Curry.
Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs, crawly bottoms and river lobsters. They’re considered a keystone animal because the burrows they dig create shelter used by more than 400 other animals. Crayfish help clean the water by eating decaying plants and animals, and are eaten in turn by more than 240 predators, including fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web.
Males court females by rubbing them with their antennae and claws. Females glue fertilized eggs onto their undersides with a sticky substance called glair. While carrying the eggs, the females are said to be “in berry” because the eggs resemble a cluster of berries. After hatching the young crayfish stay by their mother’s side for several weeks before setting out on their own. Crayfish live for two to four years.
The southeastern United States is home to more kinds of crayfish than anywhere else in the world. Crayfish are one of the most imperiled groups of freshwater animals in North America, with nearly half of species being at risk of extinction. The Center is working to save more than 400 vanishing southeastern aquatic species.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.