A Distinction?

boiled crayfish

There are around 600 species found around the world, and half of those are found in the United States and Canada. The epicenter of crayfish diversity in the U.S. is Tennessee and Alabama. However, scientists weren't expecting to find a new species in the Shoal Creek in Tennessee where aquatic biologists had been studying the small waterway for decades. The large Shoal Creek crayfish was proven to be a distinct species which was then named Barbicambarus simmonsi (Tennessee Bottlebrush Crayfish, below).

rare bottlebrush crayfish

mud burrow of a crawfish

Colorful and versatile

There are red, white, and blue species of crawfish. They can be used in soups, salads, butters, pastas, and hundreds of other dishes. Millions of people travel to New Orleans to sample the crawfish etouffée. Their conclusion: "Crawfish, them’s some good eatin!"

Some varieties of crayfish are known locally as lobsters, crawdads, mudbugs, and yabbies. The study of crayfish is astacology. On average, crayfish grow to 6.9 inches long; some are larger.

The body of decapod crustaceans like crabs, lobster, and prawns/shrimp is made up of twenty body segments grouped into two main body parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Each segment may possess a pair of appendages, although in some groups these can be reduced or missing. Walking legs are distinguished by a small claw at the end.

traditional crawfish boil with crawfish, corn and potatoes

The greatest diversity of crayfish species is found in southeastern North America where there are 330 species in the family Cambaridae. Another genus of crayfish is found in the Pacific Northwest and headwaters of some rivers east of the Continental Divide. Many crayfish are also found in lowlands where the water has abundant calcium and oxygen from underground springs. Most crayfish cannot tolerate polluted water.

Crawfish season may last from November to July during an exceptionally wet, warm winter. However, the most reliable time to find the best crawfish is spring and early summer, from late February through May.

Fossilized crayfish burrows have been found in geological strata as old as the late Palaeozoic or early Mesozoic Ages. The oldest records are found in Australia and are thought to be 115 million years old.

pile of cooked crawfish

Worldwide popularity

Crayfish are consumed around the world. In most soups, bisques and étouffées, only the tail portion is served. At crawfish boils or meals where a whole crayfish is presented, other portions may be eaten. Crayfish are not kosher.

Louisiana supplies 95% of the crayfish harvested in the US and 90% of the crayfish harvested in the world, with most being consumed locally. About 70%-80% of crayfish produced in Louisiana are red swamp crawfish; the remaining 20%-30% are river crawfish.

Crayfish are prey for a variety of fish. The tail meat is commonly used as bait. When using as bait, it's important to fish in the same environment where the crawfish were caught. Crawfish bait is popular for catching catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass, perch, pike and muskie.

By the way, what do you call a lazy crayfish? A slobster.

crawfish etoufee and rice

Crawfish Étouffée

Makes 4 Servings

1 stick (¼ pound) butter

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped bell peppers

1 pound peeled crawfish tails

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

3 tablespoons chopped green onions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium to high heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and sauté 10-12 minutes until soft and golden. Add the crawfish and bay leaves. Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally for about 10 to 12 minutes. Dissolve the flour in the water. Add to the crawfish mixture and season with salt and cayenne. Stir until mixture thickens, about 4 minutes. Add the parsley and green onions and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve with rice.

shoal creek in tennessee

(Shoal Creek, Tennessee)